Webinar Recap: The State of Baseball & Softball in Urban Communities

WEBINAR RECAP: The State of Baseball & Softball in Urban Communities

Our recent conversation with esteemed panelists explored the profound impact that bat sports can have on individuals and communities and how the recent decline in youth baseball and softball participation within African-American communities can be addressed.

Our discussion covered topics including:

  • Trends in participation in recent years (and the need for disaggregated data to verify these perceived shifts)
  • The social and cultural factors influencing kids’ choices to play
  • The hidden costs that make baseball and softball less accessible and strategies to ensure economic challenges do not limit involvement
  • Success stories in increasing African American representation within the sport
  • Successful models and initiatives that have effectively increased youth participation
  • Five-year visions and advice for stakeholders from our panel of experts

Meet the Panelists

Natasha Watley

Natasha Watley is a two–time Olympic Medalist, three-time World Champion, and the driving force behind the Natasha Watley Foundation, a community service nonprofit dedicated to introducing softball to the girls of the nation’s inner cities. More than simply teaching young women how to play the sport, her organization provides a positive alternative to the daily struggles faced by many girls in low-income households.

As a Four-time All American, Natasha joined the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame after leading the Bruins to four straight Women’s College World Series and the NCAA Division 1 Softball Championship title in 2003. In 2004, Natasha played with America’s Olympic team, taking home a gold medal. In 2008, she competed again, winning a silver medal. When softball was removed from the Olympics after the 2008 games, she competed professionally with USSSA Pride and moved to Japan to continue competing. In her 8 years in Japan, she won 5 championships as a member of the Toyota Women’s Softball Team, a part of the Japan Softball League. Now in her 15th season, she is currently a technical coach for Team Toyota, and an MLB softball Ambassador. Recently Watley created Game

Changers an online resource for triple threats as well as starting her own travel ball organization, Watley Crew.

Tyson Ross

Tyson Ross is a former Major League Baseball player who pitched for the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, St Louis Cardinals, & Detroit Tigers over 10 seasons. He attended Cal Berkeley as a student athlete from 2005-2008 before embarking on his professional career. Tyson returned to campus in 2021 to finish his degree in American Studies with a concentration in Race, Ethnicity, & Nation. His Senior Thesis on Baseball’s Black Decline explores the multitude of factors leading to the dwindling participation numbers from the Major Leagues to the local youth level. In 2021 Tyson founded Loyal to My Soil, a community-based program that offers Free Baseball/Softball camps, donated equipment, and hosts educational events for kids in underserved communities.

Bookie Gates

Bookie Gates is a passionate visionary and president of Baseball Beyond Borders. With over two decades of experience in community development and a deep-rooted commitment to inclusivity, Bookie has been the driving force behind the mission to level the playing field in youth sports. A former professional baseball player, Bookie recognized the need for greater diversity and access in the sport and embarked on a journey to make a lasting impact. Drawing on his background in business and nonprofit management, Bookie established the organization with the firm belief that every child, regardless of their background, deserves an opportunity to step up to the plate.

Under Bookie’s leadership, the organization has grown from a vision to a thriving reality. His unwavering dedication has seen the implementation of innovative programs that bridge gaps and bring communities together through baseball. A charismatic leader and tireless advocate for play equity, Bookie collaborates with local leaders, coaches, and volunteers to create a dynamic and inclusive space for young athletes. Guided by his passion and faith, the organization continues to reach new heights in promoting diversity and breaking down barriers in the world of youth baseball.

Joseph N. Cooper

Joseph N. Cooper is the inaugural Dr. J. Keith Motley Endowed Chair of Sport Leadership and Administration and Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Black Life University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston. Prior to arriving at UMass Boston, he earned his undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Recreation Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his master’s degree in Sport Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and doctoral degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Sport Management and Policy from the University of Georgia. His research agenda focuses on the intersection between sport, race, gender, education, and culture with an emphasis on sport involvement as a catalyst for holistic development and positive social change. He is the faculty founder of Collective Uplift (CU), an organization designed to educate, empower, inspire, and support Black holistic individuals to maximize their full potential both within and beyond athletic contexts. He is also the founding director of the New Balance Institute for Innovative Leadership in Sport (I2LS) at UMass Boston.  

He has presented research at international, national, and regional conferences and published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, edited books, and op-ed contributions. As a result of his research, he earned the 2009 John E. Billing Outstanding Graduate Research Merit Award at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the 2016 Outstanding Early Career Scholar Award from the University of Connecticut (UConn) Neag School of Education, the 2016 Harvey E. Beech Black Alumni Reunion Young Alumni Award from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the 2018 Sociology of Sport Journal (SSJ) Early Career Researcher Award. He is a former Co-Editor of the Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics (JIIA) and current Associate Editor of the Sociology of Sport Journal (SSJ). He has been cited in various media outlets including the New York Times, Boston Globe, ESPN, Le Monde, ABC News, NBC, Yahoo, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Insider, and USA Today.  

He is the editor of the book titled Anti-Racism in Sport Organizations published in 2022 by Texas A&M Sport Management Press and co-editor of The Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past, Present, and Persistence published in 2015 by Rowan & Littlefield and Black Athletic Sporting Experiences in the United States: Critical Race Theory published in 2017 by Palgrave Macmillan.  He is also the author of From Exploitation Back to Empowerment: Black Male Holistic (Under)Development Through Sport and (Mis)Education published in 2019 by Peter Lang and A Legacy of African American Resistance and Activism Through Sport published in 2021 by Peter Lang. His forthcoming book titled, Black Sporting Resistance: Diaspora, Transnationalism, and Internationalism, will be published in 2024 by Rutgers University Press.

David James

David James is Vice President, Baseball & Softball Development at Major League Baseball.

David joined MLB in April 2008 and oversees MLB’s grassroots youth play programming across the
United States. This includes the PLAY BALL initiative, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and
MLB’s national youth skills competition; Pitch, Hit, & Run.

James’ team in the Baseball/Softball Development Department at the Commissioner’s Office is the
primary point of contact for MLB & MiLB Clubs with regards to youth activations and programming.
Prior to joining MLB, David worked in his hometown of Williamsport, PA, in addition to Bristol, CT, for
Little League International. Over his decade at Little League, James was East Region Assistant Director
and then oversaw the Little League Urban Initiative and Challenger programs.

In addition to his role at MLB, James also sits on the USA Softball Board of Directors, a position he was
appointed to in 2021.

Moderator: Daycia McClam

Daycia McClam is a youth development professional with over a decade of experience advocating for young adults in sports and higher education. Daycia joined Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 2023 as the Director of Community Impact, where she evaluates the organization’s outreach efforts and community organizing. She also gathers data that will guide the implementation of PCA’s strategic impact vision in its assigned cities and areas.

Most recently, Daycia was the director of Project Play WNY/Youth Sports Initiatives Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. In this role, she served as the link between the Community Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the WNY Youth Sports Advisory Council, contractors, working groups, and key stakeholders. She developed, formalized, and maintained a strong youth sports network, as well as executed Project Play’s learning and evaluation strategy.

Before that, she was the education program manager for the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, advocating for key issues impacting girls and sports. She developed and coordinated program activities to meet the needs of the community, as well as the non-profit’s programmatic and expansion objectives. She collaborated with United Way coalitions to identify barriers to access and develop equitable strategies to reach underserved communities. Her career also includes previous roles at Medaille College’s Upward Bound Programs and the University of Buffalo.

Outside of work, Daycia is actively involved in her community. She is a board member of Young Audiences of WNY and works as a school mentor at SAY YES to Education Buffalo. On Sundays, she continues her commitment to youth as teen ministries coordinator at Edison Community Church.