PHOTO: 14-year-old Chayanne at the dedication of Jesse Owens Park
At dusk, on what would have been Jackie Robinson’s 95th birthday, 13-year-old Kamryn Mercer practiced his pitch at the brand new Dodgers Dreamfield at Jesse Owens Park and reflected on the legacy of the legendary player who broke the baseball color line.
“Jackie Robinson is important to me because he was the first African-American baseball player,” Kamryn said. “Also, he played for the Dodgers. And out of a million parks in the world, the Dodgers have chosen us. He’s looking down on all the hope-to-be baseball players and blessing them.”
The Dodgers Dreamfield at Jesse Owens Park, a 20-acre park in South Los Angeles named after one of the most celebrated African American Olympians of all time, is the latest of five fields built with funding from the Dodgers Foundation, LA 84, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Created in 1998, the Dodgers Foundation provides educational, athletic and recreation opportunities for children in the Los Angeles area, with a special emphasis in helping underserved youth. LA84 was endowed with surplus funds from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles to serve children through sports. Jesse Owens Park is the fifth partnership in the second district following the renovations of Athens, Lennox, Mona, and Campanella park fields. Dreaming in the batter’s box are Ted Watkins Park and Roosevelt Park, which Supervisor Ridley-Thomas hopes will be funded later this year.
Jesse Owens Park received $266,000 worth of upgrades including new bases, paint, scoreboards, signage, dugout roofs and fresh green grass.
For 14-year-old Chayanne, who was born and raised two blocks away, the park is a fresh beginning. Since she began playing at the age of five, baseball has held a special place in her childhood memories.
“I didn’t know how to hit the ball or catch or do anything like that. It was just running in dirt circles,” she said.
The field needed some help. She remembers one game — before the park’s recent renovation — where she accidentally ran past the bases because they were buried in dirt. And it became so difficult to play that Chayanne eventually stopped playing altogether.
But inspired by the professional Dodgers players and the 200 children invited to participate in the dedication ceremony, Chayanne might grab a bat again.
“It’s important to have this baseball field for the new up-and-comers,” says Chayanne. “Now there’s green grass and it looks way nicer. And it’s way bigger. And I might start playing baseball again because of this field.”