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Last season, the percentage of African-American players in Major League Baseball stood at a scant 7.7 percent.

The numbers continue to dwindle and there's no end in sight.

"If anybody has a great answer, hit up the Players Association," LaTroy Hawkins said.

An MLB pitcher for 21 years with 11 teams, the Gary native and West Side graduate is an exception to the rule.

"Never in my wildest dreams," Hawkins said of a career that's led the one-time Tolleston Little Leaguer to his induction into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame next month. "It's a big deal. Being in any hall of fame is pretty special, an honor. It's a testament to the hard work I put in, the things I stood for, not only being good on the field, but off it, too."

Hawkins was in Las Vegas at an event with former Twins teammate Eddie Guardado and others last month when he got a call from Griffith coach Brian Jennings of the IBCA.

"It's pretty cool," Hawkins said. "What I love about baseball is there's no stereotype. It's not just athleticism. You can be 5-6 or 6-10. Jose Altuve could walk through that door an nobody (else) would know who he was."

Therein lies one of the problems baseball holds in capturing interest in the inner city, where The King (LeBron James) is king.

"It's been like this for so long. It's this way all over the country," said Hawkins, who also played hoops for Ike Brown's Cougars. "It's a tough product to sell. Baseball doesn't market players like the NBA does. There's not the fanfare like with football. Basketball's more exciting. Baseball's a game predicated on failure and these kids face failure every day. It's a slow process."

The 6-foot-5 right-hander appeared in 1,042 games, durability that came with a long, loose frame and free and easy motion that enabled him to avoid injuries the majority of his career. A calm and collected demeanor also allowed him to be 'comfortable in uncomfortable situations' that pitching provides.

"He was a better catcher than he was a pitcher," Derrick Williams, Hawkins uncle, said. "He could throw guys out from his knees."

Hawkins and his brother, Ronald Sewood, were each other's pitcher and catcher. Well-known local scout Bill Bryk first saw Hawkins and steered him toward the mound. If Hawkins' grandpa hadn't taken him to camps, it may well have never happened.

"I was lucky. I was signed right out of high school," he said. "We had Legion ball, Big League, semi-pro. Little League's not a big deal anymore. Travel ball's extremely expensive. Most people can't afford it. If I'd have asked my mom for $2,000 to be on a team, she would've said, here's $40, you're playing Little League. Some kids have nowhere to go to develop and they just stop playing. We've got to get kids interested at a young age."

Folks are trying. Hawkins credits the efforts of people like Bowman Academy coach Kevin Bradley. Hawkins is involved in the Urban Youth Academy program and took part last year in the Dream Series project in Phoenix during Martin Luther King week. The endeavor brought African-American baseball prospects together to work with former pros like Hawkins, 'Flash' Gordon and former Sox manager Jerry Manuel.

"That's huge for those kids," Hawkins said. "They got experience, evaluation they never would've gotten."

A special assistant with Minnesota since November 2016, Hawkins remains involved with the young talent in the organization. After the '18 season, he said he'll decide whether to return to wearing a uniform on the field or a collared shirt and khakis in an office.

"The field is what I know," he said. "I love to compete. What I like about the Twins is they still have a fondness for the human element. (Analytics) can tell you how a guy can throw, but it can't tell you his DNA, how that kid grew up, what he's been through in his life."

As his induction nears, Hawkins is proud of what he's done and where he's from, while appreciative of those who helped him succeed. Many of them, his mom Debra Morrow, uncles Derrick and Eddie Williams, former West Side assistant basketball coaches Kenny Monroe and Joe McClaine, along with his wife Anita and daughter Troi, will be there to mark the occasion.

"Talent can get you to the door, but hard work gets you to the top," Hawkins said. "Cast your vision, put your plan in place and be relentless in the pursuit of your goal. Don't ever quit."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.