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Vida Blue

By Daniel Chanin

November 26 , 2004

Baseball fanatics might assume that nothing could possibly compare to winning three World Championships, a Cy Young award and an MVP. In the case of Vida Blue, they’d be greatly mistaken.

In 17 seasons, the southpaw from Mansfield, Louisiana won 209 games and never met a challenge he couldn’t overcome. In 1994, Blue was named commissioner of the “Junior Giants.” The San Francisco Giants run program provides equipment and accommodations to a youth baseball league designed for disadvantaged children in the Bay Area.

The responsibility of being league commissioner exceeds anything Blue encountered in his Major League career.

“I am a baseball player,” said Blue. “I [expected] myself to win a big-time, big league baseball game. But you never know what you’re going to get with these kids. Based on their backgrounds, some of them don’t have the best situations. You have to let them know that there’s a helping hand reaching out to them.”

Blue and the Junior Giants’ staff work to create a positive outlet for the kids, ages 5-18. In 2002, the Junior Giants program was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame as the “Single Best Program” run by a professional sports team. The program has grown from an initial 18 to 65 communities, and now extends from the Bay Area into Oregon and Nevada.

“For a kid not to have a baseball mitt,” said Blue, “is like not owning a bicycle. It’s about being an American.”

Though few of the children in the league are familiar with Blue’s baseball resume, he’s still a household name in Bay Area homes. Earlier this season, Blue joined the starting lineup from the A’s 1974 team to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Oakland’s third consecutive World Series championship.

Blue’s experiences as a child from a predominantly black town helps him relate to the Junior Giants members. “I share with these kids the truth. Just take everybody at face value. Don’t prejudge anybody and just accept people for who they are.”

Sue Petersen, Executive Director of the Giants Community Fund, has been working with Blue since 1993, and credits much of the program’s success to the former All-Star pitcher.

“It’s not like he’s coming from a different world,” said Petersen. “Yeah, he played baseball and you earn money at some point, and sometimes money and those things can separate you. But it’s where he came from and his roots that help him identify with these kids.”

Perhaps Blue’s ability to connect with kids was best exemplified in a visit to San Jose’s Selma Olinder Elementary School in 2003. With Petersen and company anxiously waiting to introduce the 1971 American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player, Blue was nowhere to be found. When excited screams and children’s laughter echoed from the playground’s basketball court, Petersen breathed a sigh of relief. Blue had showed up early and joined in a pickup basketball game with the kids.

In a time when fans are often resentful of professional athletes’ huge salaries, Vida Blue offers a nice alternative, reminding baseball loyalists of what can be good about today’s edition of America’s national pastime.

Daniel Chanin is a sports writer for the Oakland Tribune who also works for ABC-7 in San Francisco.



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