INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The way to Darby Park skirts The Forum, once The Fabulous Forum, home of Showtime, the best of the NBA’s past. The way ducks beneath the soaring yellow cranes that brick by brick, beam by beam, dollar by dollar, shape the NFL’s future.
Darby Park, not far from the corner of Crenshaw and Manchester, its charming little ballfield, its spotless community center named for Martin Luther King, you sort of have to know where it is.
That arena and those cranes, they cast long shadows here, even late on a Sunday morning, the sun directly overhead. Nobody bothered to notice.
In the center’s gym, more than a hundred small faces — intent, dreamy, multi-colored, tucked under new red caps — looked to Hunter Greene, part of the next generation baseball fears for, the next generation to be swept up by Showtime basketball and opulent football.
He held a microphone. He’d been talking about discipline. Showing up, having a plan, abiding the plan even when it isn’t always all that fun, making the choices that result in proud parents, presentable grades and, who knows, a $7-million check to play baseball. Then he lost his voice. Somewhere between describing the rigors of getting up early and brushing your teeth and staying up late and getting your homework done, Hunter Greene stopped, and all those young and old eyes widened, and he said finally, “I’m gonna get emotional. I’m sorry.”
See, the thing is, he explained, “I want to be a baseball star, too.”
He seems like a good young man, Hunter Greene. Dad’s proud. Mom’s proud. Perfect haircut. Fast, brilliant smile. Nice friends. Fastball that comes in at 102.
He’s 18 and only recently got around to getting his driver’s license, because, maybe, as his dad says, “Make the main thing the main thing,” so for Hunter that might have meant school and ball and collecting and donating all those hygiene kits and socks for the folks on Skid Row, and maybe that didn’t leave a lot of time for driver’s ed. He’s 18 and a multi-millionaire with four-plus innings of pro ball behind him. He’s 18 and he throws a free baseball camp for boys and girls in Inglewood and Dave Winfield and Eric Davis and Noah Syndergaard show up, and a dozen corporate sponsors chip in, and a bunch of guys he played travel ball with or hung out at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton with whip Wiffle balls at campers and mind the comebackers.
These are six of the most wholesome hours you can spend anywhere, and at the center of it all is Hunter Greene, 18 years old, giving life advice, holding them accountable, and damn if it doesn’t feel authentic and honest and exactly what those hundred pairs of eyes and ears needed to see and hear. And if not, hey, you try. You try to talk to them. You try to reason with them. You stand up straight and look them in the eye and you ask what their dream is, and when one of those perfect little knuckleheads is asked, and he says, “I want to be a baseball star,” that sort of sticks in your soul, and you might need a moment, too. ‘Cause who didn’t want to be a baseball star at 9?
a raked infield and a young man who could be their big brother catchin