"Connecting Zip Codes" - Play Ball Weekend A Huge Success

Friday, June 10, 2022 - by Joseph Dycus

In Jonathan Johnson’s words, Friday afternoon’s “MLB Play Ball” event was about “connecting zip codes.” Alongside a collection of his own Howard baseball players as well as coaches from across the region, kids from all over Hamilton County and the surrounding area ran through drills at AT&T Stadium. Children from the inner city’s Emma Wheeler homes ran and trained alongside children from rural Soddy Daisy at the free event.


“I want us to focus on the fact that we’re all alike.

We can unite not just as zip codes, but as a city,” coach Johnson said. “Whether it’s music, sports, or things of that nature, we have an ability to connect people who are different but still have the same passions or interests. Next thing you know, we see we’re more alike as humans than we realize.”


Many of the children are part of the Southside Youth Development program, which helped build a baseball field within the Emma Wheeler community. The location of the field means that children from the community have immediate access to the field, something that hinders others from enjoying the game.


“If we can’t provide them a ride home, they’re not going to be able to do it,” assistant coach Ben Bouldin said about access to playing fields. “Putting a field right in the middle of their neighborhood is big. I think the main thing today is spreading awareness of Southside Youth Development.”


Guiding the younger players were a host of Howard baseball stars such as Daveon “Lil Baby” Smith. He says he has coaching in his blood, and that showed as he assisted youngsters with the fundamentals of the game. 


“My dad is a baseball coach, so sometimes I’ll help him out,” Smith says. “I would tell the kids to stay motivated and keep pushing through it. There might be times when they want to give up, but I’d tell them to keep pushing through.”


On another area of the field were the McKissic brothers AJ and Crushun. The older of the two was visibly excited for the opportunity to be an assistant instructor, and spoke about the role baseball can have on setting children on the right path.


“I’m looking forward to teaching kids how to play baseball, because it’s a way to keep them off the streets,” Crushun says. “Coming from a rough childhood, teaching them baseball is also teaching them a better mentality and attitude for life, and how to handle bad situations.”


Elijay “Rodriguez” Early was another talented Howard baseball player who was assisting the coaches. The Spanish-language enthusiast testified firsthand to the impact the sport had on his life. 


“Make the best choices in life, because after high school things get crazy,” Early says. “Baseball taught me how to grow up and mature. I had to be coachable and taught me how to control myself.”


The Lookouts staff, including but not limited to Rich Mozingo, Dan Kopf, Alex Tainsh and others, were out and about the ballpark to ensure the event went smoothly. Ballparks and teams across the nation are hosting free events this weekend as part of Major League Baseball’s “Play Ball Weekend.”


Mozingo says that even though the team reached out to coach Johnson and the Southside Youth Development program to partake in the event, the Howard coach went far above and far beyond what was expected.


“Coach Johnson is such an ambassador for the sport of baseball,” Mozingo says. “He had the idea to bring all of his coaching staff and players out here to make this happen. I reached out to him, but he took the bull by the horns and ran with this thing.”



Do you have an opinion on this article, or have a story you believe needs coverage? You can contact the author at Joseph.A.Dycus@gmail.com or on Twitter at @joseph_dycus.

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