At 7:15 last Wednesday morning, Termarr Johnson was already up and on the baseball field.
First, it was fielding drills, followed by time in the batting cage, fine-tuning his left-handed swing.
Johnson, who just turned 17, is the star shortstop at Atlanta’s Benjamin Mays High School. He’ll be a senior next year and is one of the top high school baseball players in the country. Last week, he and 39 other top prospects took part in the Breakthrough Series, a joint effort by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball to foster diverse talent.
Johnson says from the first time he swung a bat, he knew he wanted to be baseball player.
“A lot of influences in my life played baseball: my brothers, my mom, my dad, just everybody in my family and my friends, they played baseball,” said Johnson.
Johnson has been involved with USA Baseball, since he was 12. The organization fields tournament teams that compete against teams from around the world.
“I get opportunities that a lot of people will wish to get, and it’s amazing,” said Johnson. “I just got these opportunities and got a chance to show my skills and everything.”
But these days, Johnson is the exception, not the rule among young athletes of color.
The number of Black players in Major League Baseball has been on the decline for years and has fallen to single digits, percentage wise.
“It’s been because kids in inner cities just don’t have the chance,” Johnson said.
Johnson says the programs organized by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball to develop minority baseball and softball players will soon start paying dividends.
“I feel like as the years go on, we’ll definitely have those numbers grow because of events like Dream Series, Breakthrough Series and Hank Aaron [Invitational Tournament] and everything like that,” Johnson said. “You know, baseball is fun around here, and they definitely will love to play the game.”
The camps are held in Vero Beach, Florida, a training complex named for Jackie Robinson.
Johnson was one of five Georgia high school ballplayers selected to take part in last week’s Breakthrough Series. RJ Austin from Pace Academy in Atlanta was also there along with Cameron Collier from Mount Paran Christian High School in Kennesaw, Javarra Martin from Newton High School in Covington and Elgin Bennett from Woodward Academy in College Park.
The camp featured several former Atlanta Braves serving as coaches, including outfielder Marquis Grissom, who spent 17 years in the big leagues. Grissom says the camp is especially important this year after the pandemic robbed so many young athletes of playing time.
“A lot of these kids are here from different backgrounds and different places,” said Grissom. “But to give them the educational part of the game – the physical and the mental part of the game – to a degree to where they can understand it and apply it to their game is very important.”
Grissom says the game needs more coaches around the country to help young African American ballplayers develop their skills and stick with the game.
“We’re with these kids for a couple days and, in some instances, for maybe a week or so, but it needs to be an ongoing thing that we can touch these kids,” said Grissom. “It’s got to be something that we can try to gear them up to do year-round because it takes that to get to the next level.”
Former Braves Fred McGriff, Marvin Freeman and Ken Griffey Sr. also took part in last week’s camp.