He knew what he needed to do for the kids of his adopted home town: give them the opportunity that someone had once given him. And so was born, at least in concept, Ward 7 Baseball.
It was an oxymoron in those days: “Ward 7 Baseball.” There hadn’t been baseball played in this far eastern corner of the District in generations. But phone calls led to meetings, and meetings led to action, and action led to kids showing up, and kids showing up led to those first ballgames in the summer of 2010. And now here we are, three years into Ward 7 Baseball’s existence, and there might actually be a youth baseball renaissance taking place in a part of the city where the sport had long ago died.
Perhaps even more amazingly, that renaissance is being led by a 30-year-old New York transplant — a cop, no less, with all that inherent distrust to overcome — who is operating on a budget of zero dollars, unless you count the two or three grand that he and each of his coaches routinely shell out of their own pockets each year to feed, equip and transport the 72 kids, ages 7 to 16, in the program.
Ward 7 Baseball — less a league than a conglomeration of teams representing the housing projects of Kenilworth, Clay Terrace and Lincoln Heights — is centered at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast Washington. When Medina and Jose Agosto, a former Harlem teammate who helps run Ward 7 Baseball, first started cleaning up the neglected field, strewn with hypodermic needles and beer bottles, the only thing that gave it away as an old ballfield was a rusty, teetering backstop. Now, it has a cut-out dirt infield, dugouts and bleachers.
Medina, a community affairs officer in the Sixth District, knew better than to try to recruit kids on his own. Even when he was out of uniform, the kids by that time recognized him as “five-oh” and went the other way when he approached. So he recruited his coaches first, signing up trusted community-center mentors to persuade kids reared on football and basketball to try something new and exotic: baseball.
“Kids started seeing us together,” said William Commodore, better known as “Coach Chick,” a legendary figure at the Kenilworth Park Community Center who signed on as one of Medina’s first coaches, “and said, ‘Well, if you with Mr. Chick, I guess you all right.’ ”