Richmond native, VCU students host Jackie Robinson Day celebration

Slyderz Baseball founder Carl Smith greets players at the Jackie Robinson Celebration Day on April 16. Photos by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Kaitlyn Fulmore, Photo Editor

The crack of a ball hitting a bat led to an onslaught of cheers, yells and claps from parents on both bleachers and lawn chairs. 

The hitter got to second base where Carl Smith, founder of the nonprofit Slyderz Baseball, gave them a high-five and words of encouragement. Slyderz Baseball encourages youth in the Richmond community to play more baseball again, along with diversifying the predominantly white sport, according to Smith. 

“I just wanted them to get the basic fundamentals of it [baseball],” Smith said. “Baseball requires more mental focus. I call it a left-brain sport.”

The Jackie Robinson Day celebration was held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Chamberlayne Little League field on April 16. Jackie Robinson Day is on April 15 and celebrates Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, which refers to segregation in sports, in 1947.

“There was a lot of people out here showing support,” said parent Dashawn Bostic. “Everybody was turnt up when they was batting and catching. You make the kids feel like they really doing something when you got the energy.”

Bostic, a relative of Smith, said Smith is bringing the community together “real well.”

“He’s a real standup guy,” Bostic said. “A lot of people respect him and look up to him. I feel like he’s the perfect guy for the job.”

The celebration opened with a game between two Chamberlayne Little League teams, followed by an easter egg hunt. Smith then spoke to the parents, introducing and explaining Slyderz Baseball and gave recognition to Gaither and Rebecca Beard, North Richmond Little League coaches of 50 years. 

Children played pick up baseball games the rest of the day while music from local DJ Reggie playing in the background.

“It went well,” Smith said. “The people that were there found out about Slyderz. A lot of people reached out to me, they appreciated the presentation.”

Smith partnered with Chamberlayne Little League to host Slyderz’s first annual Jackie Robinson Day, where children from all over the Richmond area came out to play baseball. 

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to just bring people together,” Smith said. “For the sake of baseball and celebrating him [Jackie Robinson] and some other people that broke the color barrier.”

Smith, a restaurant owner, founded Slyderz Baseball in 2018. The organization also plans on tutoring students after school, according to Smith. Smith emphasized the importance of education for all children.

“Schools don’t really have resources to teach different learning styles,” Smith said. “We were definitely trying to be a support system to the schools to try to help kids read better and increase their math skills.”

Slyderz was communicating with Trinity Family Life Center, a Richmond community center, about starting a tutoring program, according to Smith. However, COVID-19 put that progress to a halt.

Chad Morris, interim CEO for the Life Center, said Smith came to them with the idea of using baseball to teach about the transitions of life, as a part of a stabilization program. 

While baseball includes physical prowess and technical skills, Morris also said baseball includes leadership skills, sportsmanship and character development.  

“The intention is to bring that to the forefront with baseball skills,” Morris said. “This thing with them is an investment into having a more secure and positive future.”

Slyderz Baseball was chosen this spring semester by VCU’s CreateAthon course to be a nonprofit that would partner with teams of students. 

Jessica Collins, the professor of the CreateAthon class, said many nonprofits reach out to partner with VCU.

“We want to help nonprofits that maybe can’t afford to have professional organizations helping them out,” Collins said.

Local nonprofits are chosen through an application process, which includes an interview. Slyderz Baseball was chosen due to Smith’s level of commitment and the overall mission of his nonprofit, Collins said.

Teammates Hailey Fitzgerald, Khristy Zheng and Blake Carlson worked throughout the semester on creating a plan for a Slyderz Baseball launch on Jackie Robinson Day. The plan was executed on March 25 during the 24-hour CreateAthon event, where volunteers joined the team to carry out the plan. 

Smith said he is looking forward to next year’s Jackie Robinson Day celebration, and hopes for it to one day be a city-wide event. 

“I feel like it’s gonna get bigger and bigger each year,” Smith said. “People are gonna be looking forward to it, and I’m just looking forward to finally getting Slyderz out to the people that want to participate.”

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