By Daja E. Henry and Ila Wilborn (2018 NNPA DTU Journalism Fellows)
Over 38,000 people watched from the stands Sunday in Washington D.C.’s Nationals Park as Tuskegee University pitcher Christian Marshall stepped up to the plate to throw the ceremonial first pitch of the 2018 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Elgin Woodside, a catcher for Tuskegee’s baseball team, assisted. Although the two were not yet prospects for the “Majors,” they both have a stake in the future of baseball.
“Growing up as kids, playing baseball, everyone has that dream of going to the [pros],” Marshall said, as he explained the feeling of pitching in a game with Minor League Baseball’s top prospects.
Woodside added: “Even though we never thought that moment would come to us, whenever we got in the moment, it didn’t feel like we were out of place. It felt like we were meant to be there, and all our hard work was paying off and God just gave us our blessing.”
As a part of the Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week, the 2018 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game is meant to shine a spotlight on budding baseball stars. At the 20-year mark, the exhibition game “features the top Minor League prospects competing in a nine-inning contest as part of All-Star Sunday,” according to the league’s official website.
Marshall and Woodside are pitcher and catcher of Tuskegee University’s SIAC baseball team. The two bonded over baseball, however, long before they entered Tuskegee, in their hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana; both participated in the New Orleans MLB Urban Youth Academy.
“A lot of kids [in New Orleans] don’t get the opportunities we got,” Marshall said.
From 2005 up until June 2018, Louisiana was deemed the incarceration capital of the world. According to EdWeek, the state ranks 46th in K-12 achievement. Orleans Parish itself was named the most murderous county in 2017. Marshall and Woodside were determined not to become a part of those statistics.
The two are beginning their senior year at Tuskegee, both studying mechanical engineering. Marshall is interning this summer, testing parts for NASA in Pasadena, Calif. Woodside is assessing aerodynamics at Lockheed Martin in Stamford, Conn.
The two student athletes do not have much idle time.
“In the fall, even though we’re not in season, we’re still practicing,” Marshall said as he described their daily schedules that begin with workouts as early as 5 A.M. The rigorous coursework and hectic baseball schedules keep the two utilizing the creative work ethic they acquired back home at the MLB Youth Academy.
Though they have a lot on their plate, there is a driving force pushing them to reach for further success.
“Whenever you get tired, you’ve got to have something in the back of your mind that you can tap into,” Woodside said. “The things that I’m doing, it’s a reflection of me, but it’s also a reflection of something bigger.” Woodside explained how he is building a future that will make his entire and future family proud.
Marshall and Woodside exist in a rare intersection for young, Black men. As of 2017, the MLB reported 7.7 percent African American or African Canadian players. According to 2010 Census data, African American men made up just 3 percent of scientists and engineers working in the field. Their very existence in this intersection is a statement of triumph over the lack of access to vital resources that often plagues young Blacks.
While many African Americans get into basketball and football, it’s just not as easy to get into baseball. The lack of equipment, facilities and role models make it difficult for young, Black men to expose themselves to the sport. While in football and basketball, children can just pick up a ball and practice, baseball requires highly, specialized equipment like gloves, bats and balls, which puts children from low-income families at a disadvantage.
Exposure is the main factor that separates Marshall and Woodside from their counterparts. Marshall’s mother exposed him to baseball around six years-old. Woodside’s father put him into tee-ball at three years-old. While participating in the Urban Youth Academy, they both gained a baseball role model in Eddie Davis, a Black resident of New Orleans, who played minor league baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system.
Both expressed a level of difficulty finding mentors in engineering, as well. At times, they feel as if they are under a microscope. However, they remain humble, consistent and determined to overcome those obstacles.
“Knowledge is power. If you can get more knowledge and just learn how things operate, then I feel like that’ll be the key to overcoming any type of adversity there is at your workplace or in your life,” Marshall said.
Their mechanical engineering playbook includes asking a lot of questions, staying engaged and setting up lunch meetings to learn from people, who are in the positions they want to be in.
Tuskegee has been instrumental in creating a networking pipeline and served as a beneficial aspect of Woodside’s life, since he first began attending the university.
“It just felt like everybody was one big family,” Woodside said.
With just under 3,000 students enrolled in 2017, Tuskegee has the opportunity to provide its students with a close-knit atmosphere.
“It [isn’t] a big school, so you know you’re going to make connections that can last a lifetime,” Woodside said.
The teammates rely on their lifetime connection to help win games.
“The closeness that we have is like unspoken communication,” Marshall said. “Every game that I’ve pitched really well, he’s been the one catching for me the whole time.”
Woodside expressed equal admiration for Marshall.
“If it wasn’t for Christian Marshall, Elgin Woodside would not be the person that he is today,” Woodside said. “Christian was always there to pick me up.”
“When I’m on the mound and he’s on the plate, especially when we catch our groove, it feels like we’re unstoppable…almost.” Marshall said as he explained the natural chemistry that is critical in the makings of a great team.
Marshall continued: “We made the most of what we had at Tuskegee and I feel we made a major impact because of the mentality we brought into the program.”
Daja E. Henry (Howard University), Ila Wilborn (Florida A&M University) are 2018 NNPA Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellows representing #TeamAuthentic. Follow their stories this summer at nnpa.org/dtu.