Experience Baseball helps Lost Boyz of Chicago enjoy the game, escape the violence
Far from the harsh realities of the neighborhoods where they play and attend school, boys in baseball jerseys ate hot dogs and gummy worms from luxury box front row seats.
In the middle of the game, they all took turns on the youth practice field in left field and came back to generous helpings of cake. They saw the Chicago White Sox beat the Seattle Mariners and then were treated to a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza.
This was a night to remember for these inner-city kids thanks to the efforts of Lost Boyz Inc. and a partnership with Experience Baseball Inc.
LaVonte Stewart grew up in the South Shore neighborhood in Chicago. He once saw a youth baseball game halted when two men firing guns ran through the outfield.
Stewart didn't want that kind of life for the next generation, including his son — also named LaVonte — so he acted.
"We started Lost Boyz in 2008 in South Shore in direct response to the surge of violence we saw among our youth," said Stewart. In the last year, the number of youngsters the program has doubled to about 70.
Through a youth baseball league as well as educational, cultural and civic experiences — such as attending pro baseball games — the Lost Boyz are getting a chance to break the cycle.
The common ground is baseball.
"We can put all these kids on the same page, no matter what school or what block," says Stewart. "It has been working very, very well."
Stewart is grateful for the helping hand from Experience Baseball, an organization based in South Bend and started by Tobias Blake that works to help at-risk youth in urban neighborhoods.
"(Tobias) and I are fans of the game and we wanted to spread that joy to the kids and show it how it can permeate the rest of the areas of their lives," Stewart said.
Blake has community partners in four other Major League Baseball cities — Diamond In The Rough in Cleveland, Southwest Rides in Detroit, High Aspirations in Kansas City and Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis — and hopes to gradually grow the outreach.