Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Friday, January 8, city officials gathered with current and former MLB players native to the Pine Belt and community members to cut the ribbon for new batting cages at Vernon Dahmer Park – the latest Your Penny at Work project. This took place in conjunction with a distribution event coordinated by The Players Alliance comprised of more than 100 black, current and former, professional baseball players
The batting cages, funded by the one-cent restaurant and hotel/motel tax, are a much-needed asset that will serve both the neighborhood youth who use the park, as well as the many teams who come through the park for tournaments and regular season-play.
“These parks and recreation projects are two-fold. One, we want to impact the quality of life for our residents – particularly our children – in a positive way,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. “Secondly, in a facility like this, we see another impact – and that’s growing the next generation of Joe Grays and Anthony Alfords. Every child may not suit up for Major League Baseball, but they will have an opportunity to learn the facets of teamwork, work ethic and how to be a productive citizen in our community.”
Not listed in the 17 projects initially proposed for funding, the batting cages were added after a conversation with an invested parent and coach – Joe Gray, Sr. – brought the need to the forefront.
Barker stated, “Mr. Gray approached me after Hattiesburg High won the 2018 5A state baseball championship. He quickly identified the need for a facility that parents, grandparents, coaches and other role models could use to bring their kids to for practice and work. At that moment, the idea of a hitting facility – covered from the elements with lighting – became a reality.”
Barker noted that Councilman Nicholas Brown pushed for the first one to be at Vernon Dahmer Park in Ward 5. Gray, Sr. also added how important amenities like batting cages are in providing more opportunities to inner-city youth.
“The value of this facility is so important to our community – giving an opportunity to every inner-city child who gets to use it,” said Gray, Sr. “Baseball requires repetitive work and time spent on the game. A facility like this, built for them, gives them an opportunity to learn and practice the basics of the game. Most importantly, it levels the playing field.”
The total cost for the project was $48,000, and it includes a pitching machine that will be installed in early spring.
Shortly after the ribbon-cutting, The Players Alliance distributed food boxes donated by Extra Table, baseball gear for youth and COVID-19 relief supplies in a drive-thru event for city residents.
The Players Alliance, a national organization, is dedicated to creating more opportunities for the black community in every aspect of baseball and beyond. Hattiesburg was the 21st stop on their multi-city tour to make a difference in communities all across the country.
Among the baseball players with the Alliance and who helped orchestrate/plan the distribution event was centerfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pine Belt-native, Anthony Alford.
“The Players Alliance is dedicated to putting resources back into the community to level the playing field,” said Alford. “It’s not that the black community doesn’t have the talent, but sometimes the opportunity to use it or cultivate it isn’t there. Knowing spring ball is ahead of us and how expensive the game can be, our role in giving away bats, gloves and baseballs will hopefully take the pressure off of some parents and provide for an opportunity where needed.”
Members of the alliance gave away more than 150 cars-worth of materials and COVID-19 supplies, along with food boxes generously provided by Extra Table.