A man from the NAACP called The Washington Post one morning this spring, upset that our first-team All-Met baseball squad did not contain a single black player.

The man from the NAACP should get in his car, pick a neighborhood in virtually any part of town, and drive past its baseball diamonds. Or what used to be baseball diamonds. Now, they're covered by everything from weeds to pieces of glass.

Too many of those diamonds are quiet on weekends and they are quiet on weeknights too. No big groups with coolers and blankets gathered 'round. No Little League games, no Pony League games, no informal, choosing-up-sides games. No fathers hitting fungoes to their sons, no brothers playing catch. Weeds and glass, that's what the man from the NAACP would see, at least at most of the parks in the inner city.

There are fewer and fewer black kids playing baseball in America's big cities nowadays. It's an upset that a couple were good enough to be named second-team All-Met. Black kids are on the basketball courts, the football fields, they're even on the tennis courts, but the weeds just grow higher on the baseball fields.

Spingarn High School didn't bother to field a team this spring. Not enough interest. This is not just a problem in the District; Little Leagues are folding in urban areas everywhere. So fewer and fewer kids with experience are playing high school baseball. And fewer are going on to play in college. In the recent College World Series, of the 176 players who competed, six were black.

Blacks accounted for 37 percent of Division I college football players and 56 percent of men's Division I college basketball players in 1988, according to a study submitted to the NCAA last year by the American Institutes for Research, based in Washington. But only 11 percent of the nation's 8,000 Division I college baseball players were black -- and if the players from black schools were excluded, the figure drops to 2.6 percent.

That number is not likely to increase much, because the number of baseball scholarships available is declining as college athletic budgets become tighter.

"If I was strictly a baseball player, I would have been one of those guys who may not have had the opportunity {to play college baseball} and may never have been able to show my talents," Southern Cal's John Jackson (outfielder/wide receiver) told the Los Angeles Times. "A lot of black athletes will never find out if they'll develop {as baseball players at the college level} because -- mostly for financial reasons -- they'll never have the opportunity."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said last week he sees a direct relationship between the drop-off in black participation and the drop-off in black attendance at major league games. "We're concerned, very concerned," he said. "We're trying to do something about it. Attendance is below what it should be and I think it relates to the decline in participation."

It saddened former Spingarn baseball coach John Wood, especially on the Fourth of July, to see those diamonds empty. "I lost interest as the kids lost interest," he said. "I grew up in Anacostia playing baseball, and we came out in droves. The District used to field 'select teams,' which would take the best kids {through tryouts} and play all around the area. Plus, there were some semipro teams. To my knowledge, they don't exist anymore.

"Now, when school is out and summer begins, baseball for black kids in the city ends. If you find a kid who's really good, you better take him to camps in the suburbs. The scouts don't come here. . . . It's a dying sport in the city."

There are a few theories as to why baseball in our inner cities is dying. One is that black major leaguers no longer live in predominantly black communities. In the late '60s and early '70s, when baseball may have reached its height in popularity among blacks, Ernie Banks lived not too far down the road from me. Walt "No Neck" Williams lived three blocks over and came to one of my Little League openers. Fergie Jenkins would give kids a ride from Wrigley Field back to the South Side. You had actual contact with ballplayers in your own neighborhood.

Baseball card shows and clinics don't take place in inner cities anymore. Everything takes place in the suburbs, where the number of teams -- from Little League up -- is steadily increasing. But, typically, in Montgomery County, where blacks do very well in high school football and basketball, there are few blacks among the elite in high school and American Legion baseball.

Obviously, economics play a factor. National League umpire Eric Gregg points out that there is a tuition charge for his kids to attend baseball camp in the summer, something many black families cannot afford. But Gregg wondered aloud about the increasing cost of gloves and other equipment, then stopped himself. "In the Dominican, in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, in Venezuela, in very impoverished areas, kids are playing baseball. So it can't just be money."

Spingarn's Wood says: "When I was growing up we had to switch gloves because everybody couldn't afford one. We had to borrow dilapidated equipment. But we played. I don't know what the solution is."

Basketball has all the attention in cities, particularly black communities, to the point that baseball now has to do a hard-sell job to attract the interest of the best athletes, assuming the decline is not irreversible. It is a safe bet that there are more kids playing summer league basketball indoors on 90-degree days than are playing baseball in the District.

Major League Baseball already has started several youth programs, including a very successful one in Los Angeles, that target economically disadvantaged kids. And Vincent added that he is leaning toward specific marketing and promotional campaigns. "The perception among blacks is still that baseball is a white man's game," he said, "and we have to do a better job of making sure minorities know the game is open to them."

It may take that kind of all-out effort, because Wood doesn't see the decline of black participation in our cities as an overnight phenomenon or some cycle that will break itself. "I think it was 1975 that I first noticed it," he said. "I had to beg and threaten kids to come out and play. We didn't have enough kids to suit up one day."

Wood, while he won't go around manicuring weed-covered fields, as he did for years, is optimistic that Spingarn will field a team next season. "We're going to have a team," Wood said emphatically. How so?

"Our assistant football coach, Eugene Wright, is the baseball coach. We'll play a lot of the football players."