By STEVE KRAH
A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.
The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.
It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.
These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.
A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”
Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.
“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. “(The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.
“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”
With support from many, programming is free to these young people.
“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”
Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.
The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.
“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.
“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”
Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.
Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”
Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.
“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”
Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.
He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.
A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.
Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.
Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.
Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.
(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.
“It’s a culture.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.
Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.
“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”
Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.
Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.
Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.
Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.
Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.
Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.
To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.
In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.
Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.
Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.
“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.
“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”
“But it’s about family.”
For more information, contact Barber at email@example.com or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.
Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)