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Seattle Mariners announce inaugural Hometown Nine class

The Mariners established the Hometown Nine program this summer. (Getty)

One of the beauties of baseball has long been its accessibility. It’s a sport that boys and girls can play, a sport that has had a place for kids of all shapes, sizes and abilities.

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All has not been equal, however, when it comes to advanced baseball and the opportunities it can provide. For the better part of the last two decades that side of baseball has been open to only those who can afford it. Now with the help of Hometown Nine, created by the Mariners this summer, the costs of participating in elite baseball and softball programs will be covered for nine area eighth graders.

The Hometown Nine program was created by the Mariners and given a $50,000 donation from T-Mobile as the first and founding partner to help bridge the gap that prevents a more diverse pipeline of players. The aim is to help under-served youth from communities of color continue to play baseball and softball and advance their educations in grades 8-12. Each year the Mariners will select nine incoming eighth grade Fellows to participate in the program. These Fellows will have their baseball/softball annual program fees underwritten by the Mariners as well as receive mentorship from assigned mentors and other support to help prepare them for academic success and to become community leaders.

In addition to submitting applications demonstrating eligibility for the program, the applicants were required to submit statements telling the selection committee who they are and how they will help create a better future. The inaugural class includes a young player who has undergone four open heart surgeries, a 13-year old defensive end who got a late start and has had to overcome the perception that because of his size he didn’t have the skills to catch up to his baseball teammates, and a 12-year-old honor student who has found refuge in playing softball while battling post-traumatic stress disorder.

These students along with others were told of their acceptance to the program in Zoom calls which featured a number of Mariners players including Kyle Lewis, Justin Dunn and Dee Strange-Gordon. Each student has a unique and compelling story as profiled below in provided bios. In that group could be a future big leaguer, front office member or perhaps coach or staff member. Thanks to Hometown Nine they have the assurance that finances will not keep them from competing at an advanced level and the support of mentors who will encourage them to continue in their pursuit of goals in and out of baseball.

Take a look at who these kids are, where they have come from and what they want to accomplish. They are just nine of many but perhaps the start of a difference being made.

2020 Hometown Nine inaugural class

King Allah: This Federal Way 13-year old didn’t start playing baseball until two years ago when he joined Central District Little League. With that late start, and because he is big for his age, King says he had to overcome the perception that he was slow and didn’t have the skills of teammates who had been playing for eight years. But by “working twice as hard and long,” he overcame the doubters. “I told myself I can do this, and I will succeed. I believed in myself no matter what anyone thought of me.” In addition to elite baseball, King also plays defensive end and right guard on a travel football team. King’s goal is to get a degree in business and create a nonprofit to help underprivileged youth with academics, mentorship and sports because, “I want kids to be able to have the same experience I do.”

Michelle Andrea Arimura: In elementary school, Michelle struggled with a reading disorder. She was also challenged with English as a Second Language classes and received one-on-one tutoring through fifth grade. These obstacles made Michelle feel like she “sucked at everything.” Then she started playing softball and it changed her whole outlook. “I feel good when I am in the field, I trust my skills, and everyone said I am a good player.” Most recently, Michelle played catcher, third base and shortstop for the Flame Fastpitch team. Michelle wants to continue to play softball at an elite level, with the goal of receiving a scholarship at a Division 1 school.

Noah Broussard: Noah began playing baseball at the age of four while living in the Bay Area. He recognized early that life for him was “more challenging, in part because of economic inequalities.” His family of four lived in a one-bedroom apartment and struggled to make ends meet. Noah says he felt embarrassed that he had fewer resources than other kids, but he was determined to overcome that and “take advantage of the opportunities given to me.” He started going to the library and after-school tutoring. He also flourished as a baseball player. He was a Little League Majors All-Star in 2016-2017, and in 2019, he was chosen to participate in the elite Cooperstown Field of Dreams Tournament. Despite being the youngest member of his Baseball Beyond Borders team, his coach says Noah has become a team leader by “rising to his teammates level of maturity.” Noah plans to attend college, become an engineer and create a mentorship program to inspire other kids of color to follow his path. In his words, “I want them to know it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s about working hard to reach your goal.”

Darnell Carlisle: Darnell has played baseball and basketball for several years, including for teams coached by his father. In recent years, he struggled as the skills and abilities of other boys his age surpassed his. With the help of his dad and a lot of hard work, Darnell was named Most Improved Player for his Rainier District Little League team. In addition to sports, Darnell volunteers with the West Seattle Food Bank where he enjoys giving back to the community and helping those in need.

Ty’mori Greene: While living with his mother in Florida, Ty’mori was basically homeless. They moved around from place to place, stayed with relatives, and often didn’t have running water or electricity. He eventually moved to Washington to live with his father and stepmother, where he says he found a stable home and encouragement from his parents “to become better and to never let anything stop me.” Despite the upheaval in his life, Ty’mori managed to play baseball and football. He wants to continue to play baseball, go to college, and become a professional baseball player. When he achieves that goal, Ty’mori wants to create a foundation to help others in need in his hometown.

Gabriel Lopez: Like many, Gabriel’s family has been hard hit by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he has not let it distract him from baseball. From 2016-2019, he played Little League, where he was a two-time All-Star, and for Select teams on Mercer Island. He has most recently played pitcher and catcher at an elite level for Baseball Beyond Borders. As a person of color, Gabriel says he has been deeply affected by the racial unrest that has swept the nation this summer. He aspires to continue to play baseball and help lead his generation to end discrimination.

Tycean Martin: The 13-year old from Seattle has played baseball at an elite level despite undergoing four open-heart surgeries and more than 20 medical procedures to treat a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. Tycean plays first base, pitcher and outfield for the Washington Select Warriors, and has earned an MVP award for defense and Most Inspirational. Tycean is a fledgling entrepreneur who founded T Money Kicks, a shoe restoration and custom design business. He takes drumming lessons and has received awards for leadership in school. His goal is to continue to play baseball as long as he can and go to college. Although he hasn’t decided on a career path, he is determined to be a “change-maker” as he and other members of his generation “stand up against racism and fight for justice and peace for people.”

Kahealani Sharpe: Kahealani is a talented multi-sport athlete who has excelled in wresting, rowing and softball. Last season, she learned a powerful lesson when she moved to a more competitive fastpitch softball team to increase her chances of being scouted for college programs. When her former teammates reacted with anger and disappointment, Kahealani was able to work through the complicated feelings and form even stronger bonds of friendship with them. Because her mother works for a nonprofit that advocates for the homeless, Kahealani has taken a keen interest in the issue. She volunteers with Challenger Little League, the adaptive baseball program for children of all abilities, and she also advocates against bullying by setting an example with her own behavior. “When my family, friends, and classmates are too scared to speak up, I make it a point to be the one that stands tall to speak for and/or beside them in the face of bullying until they have the strength and courage to stand tall on their own. No one should be bullied because of their differences,” she says.

Joy Wilde: Joy is a 12-year old honor student from Tacoma with a 4.0 GPA. She enjoys playing soccer and basketball, but softball has had the greatest impact on her life. At the age of seven, Joy suffered a traumatic experience that left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. At the age of nine, she started playing softball, which she says gave her strength and courage. “When I play softball all the pain and anger just go away and it’s just me, the ball, and my team,” says Joy. This spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports, Joy says she was “devastated and scared’ without softball. But she created her own workout and practice schedules to maintain her athletic skills. “While I still wish it would have been a normal season, I learned valuable lessons about perseverance. These two life events taught me how to remain strong even in my weakest moments, how to be brave, and how to have courage,” she said. In addition to sports, Joy has learned the art of bookbinding and she made leather-bound books for her teammates. Joy wants to play for the University of Washington softball team and eventually become a coach. Or a product designer. Whatever she decides to do, she plans to use her platform to work for racial equity, but she’s not waiting for the future to get started. Joy is collecting “stories for change” from female athletes who have faced racism. According to a website she created for the project, her goal is to “create a guide for female athletic teams that educates players about issues involving race and serves as a jumping off point for more discussions about race.” Joy believes sharing these stories can have a powerful impact. “If my teammates knew how much some of their comments hurt me, they wouldn’t say them,” she says.

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