By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Kansas City has a rich baseball history. While Major League Baseball did not come to the city until 1955 when the Athletics moved there from Philadelphia, it was a key city for the Negro leagues from the 1920s and is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Bralin Jackson is well aware of that history and at a time when African-American participation in baseball is at an all-time low, Jackson hopes to see that trend reversed as he progresses up the pro baseball ladder.
“Back home I played baseball with a group of guys and we really try to strive to bring baseball back,” Jackson said. “We try to help inner city kids with the RBI program, bringing baseball back to the inner cities and letting guys know it’s OK for the brothers to get back into the game and to play on this platform.
“They really look up to me when I come home. They want me to help them and give them insight on the game and what they can do to be on this level or go to college.”
RBI stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities. It is a Major League Baseball youth outreach program that is designed to increase participation and interest in baseball and softball among underserved youth; encourage academic participation and achievement; increase the number of talented athletes prepared to play in college and the minor leagues; promote the greater inclusion of minorities into the mainstream of the game; and teach the values of teamwork.
Started in 1989, over a million youth have been served and there are currently more than 300 RBI leagues around the country. Nearly 200 RBI alumni have been drafted by major league clubs including former Princeton P-Ray Carl Crawford and Jackson.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Raytown South High School, Jackson committed to play ball at the University of Missouri before he inked his contract with the Rays. He played the 2012 season in the Gulf Coast League where he had some adjustments to make.
“It was a grind. I had to get used to waking up at 6:00 every day, being out in the Florida sun,” Jackson said. “Being from Missouri I was not used to that humidity. I had to get used to practicing early in the morning and playing a nine inning game every day. At first it took a toll, but my body got used to that grind and being outside early and I learned to go to bed early versus staying up late like I did in high school, to get sleep. Sleep is very important. Rest is very important.”
The speedy centerfielder batted .253 in 39 games last season with four triples and five stolen bases. This season Jackson is struggling at the plate but he has confidence he can work his way through it. He talked about the difference between the GCL and the Appalachian League.
“The major difference I would say is probably the hitters,” Jackson opined. “Pitching is really the same. In the Gulf Coast League they really like to show off their fastball and we don’t know where it’s going. But the hitters here are more consistent, more gap-to-gap hitters versus the Gulf Coast League hitters. We weren’t that great because we were all getting used to pro ball.”
Growing up there were three players Jackson admired and all share something in common with him, fast outfielders who batted one way and threw the opposite way.
“Bo Jackson, Willie McGee, Rickey Henderson. Not too many lefty throwers and right handed hitters,” Jackson said.
He is also proud of the Negro League heritage he was able to experience first-hand growing up in Kansas City.
“We went to the (Negro Leagues) Museum a lot of times,” Jackson recalled. “Our stadium that we played in was Satchel Paige Stadium, a historical field. It was cool to play there, a lot of history there. I know a lot about the game and Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell and all those guys. They worked hard back in the day.”
Jackson has a great support group behind him in Missouri that include his parents, sister, brother-in-law and nephew.
“My mom has been with me, taking me to tournaments and my father has been there. I really thank my parents for raising me well. I have a tight group back home,” Jackson said.
As is the case with every player in the Appalachian League, Jackson’s goal is to make it to the majors, but there are also some intermediate milestones he would like to accomplish.
“Short-term my goal here in Princeton is to be more consistent at the plate, use more of my tools on the basepaths and steal more bases, play better defense and win, get a championship here for Princeton,” Jackson said.
— Contact Bob Redd at