The Hollywood Indies Little League Swings and Connects with At-Risk Youth
The 22-year-old brainchild of director and Emmy-winning producer Stan Brooks — with the support of Hank Azaria, Macy Gray, Angela Bassett and the L.A. Dodgers Foundation — is now the largest little league program in L.A. county: "It's our job to create better citizens."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
"When you’re out on the field the only thing you’re focusing on is playing and trying to win." Spoken like a Hollywood power player — but these actually are the words of Peyton Barnes, a 15-year-old from South L.A. who participates in the Hollywood Indies Little League.
The largest little league program in L.A. county, HILL was founded in 1994 by lifelong Angeleno and die-hard baseball fan Stan Brooks, 57, the director and Emmy-winning producer (Broken Trail) of many TV films and miniseries, including this year's The Lizzie Borden Chronicles for Lifetime. "I was sitting in my office 22 years ago and I read an L.A. Times story about how the board of supervisors was cutting funding for parks and rec," he recalls. "The first thing to go was going to be baseball because it’s such an expensive sport."
Brooks inquired about what it would take to keep the game alive at South L.A.'s Helen Keller Park — on the field where Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith learned to play the game — and reached out to friends and colleagues to raise funds. Some, including 3 Arts Entertainment’s Michael Rotenberg (an executive producer of Silicon Valley), have been supporters ever since. Stars like Hank Azaria and Macy Gray also have pitched in — Azaria as a longtime sponsor and Gray as a singer at the unveiling of the refurbished baseball facilities at Jesse Owens Park, which the league also uses. "As a resident of L.A. and a mother of twins playing sports, I know how important it is to provide a safe environment for kids to play ball," says supporter Angela Bassett, an Emmy nominee for American Horror Story: Freak Show. "Especially kids in the most at-risk parts of our community."
Today, the league has 223 players (ages 5 to 16) spread across more than 20 teams overseen by volunteer coaches, umpires, scorekeepers and two commissioners, married couple Rosalyn and Michael Flowers, who run its day-to-day operations. "The program is based on baseball, but we teach a lot more than baseball — we try to teach life skills," says Michael, 58. "We believe — we hope and pray — that it makes them better people overall. I tell the coaches all the time, 'It’s not our job to create ballplayers. It’s our job to create better citizens.' " Three HILL alums have made it to the Major Leagues, and all the kids who come through the program "take away a sense of pride," says Rosalyn. "They feel good as a community because we are one big family."
Support from the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation — which, through the nationwide RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) initiative, provides funding, uniforms, equipment, health resources and an annual field trip to Dodger Stadium to take in a game — has been integral to HILL's success. "The opportunity to use sports to engage kids — kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity or who otherwise really wouldn’t be seen — is intriguing to us," says Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Foundation.
Over the years, various members of the Dodgers organization have taken hands-on roles with the league, making opening day appearances, teaching clinics and giving pep talks, including Mike Piazza, Tommy Lasorda, Tim Leary and, most recently, star outfielder Carl Crawford. "I played in RBI programs," says Crawford, 34, whom the Dodgers acquired from the Red Sox in 2012. (He helped to carry an RBI team from Houston to the 1997 RBI World Series.) "I love being around the kids and I just try to give them words of encouragement. You want to give them the same types of chances that you had."
Despite HILL's tremendous impact on the South L.A. community, it still faces a constant existential threat. As a result of the State of California’s giant deficit, city budgets are being slashed, and little league baseball once again is being threatened. Brooks vows to fight on. He says, "A lot of these families are really struggling, and to have baseball as a retreat for them — some place to go to be safe and to learn lessons — is invaluable."
For more information about HILL or to make a donation to support it, visit http://www.hollywoodindieslittleleague.org/.
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