MIKE NIETO: Through their eyes

2012-04-19T22:00:00Z MIKE NIETO: Through their eyesBy Mike Nieto Prep Beat
April 19, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

LANSING | The trips to Florida that the Illiana Christian and Marian Catholic baseball teams took recently was more than a vacation to Disney World.

Sure, there were baseball and softball games and a chance to get away from it all for a week during spring vacation.

For these teams, it was also a trip to Sanford, Fla. The city of more than 53,000 has been in the news since late February because of the shooting death of teenager Trayon Martin. George Zimmerman was charged April 12 with second-degree murder.

The Illiana team said it was a little concerned with what they saw on the news and read. A few said they Googled to find out about the safety, but when they got there, they were not concerned with being in Sanford.

"Not really," Illiana senior catcher Aaron Gibson said when asked if they were scared. "Most people we talked to about it, they had an opinion, but what was being portrayed on TV about the town was not all true."

Sanford was not a powder keg ready to explode. It was not going to be a replay of Newark or Detroit in 1967 or Chicago in 1968.

"I'm not saying there wasn't some tension, but we were not scared," senior pitcher Braden Mulder said. "We are a mostly white team and we were in a gas station in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and we did not have any trouble. Nobody came up and started harassing us.

"I think the media may have overblown some things."

Junior Trevor Wheaton said it was an eye-opening experience and his teammates agreed to take a trip was a good team-bonding experience.

"There were a few signs like you saw on TV, but I never felt scared," Wheaton said. "We took a certain route to the stadium and once we got on the field, our focus was on baseball.

"To be there at this time, is a learning experience."

Junior Russell Dorsey said he it was an experience he will never forget for the baseball and historical value. He said neither he nor his teammates felt uneasy. Dorsey, who is an African-American, said he never had any prejudices or slurs thrown at him.

"No, we didn't," Dorsey said. "We were aware of what happened, but one thing we did do was make friends with other teams, play some baseball and get closer as a team.

The Vikings played at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium, which was originally Sanford Field and was built in 1926. The current stadium was built in 1951 and refurbished a few years back. It was the spring training home for the New York baseball Giants. It was supposed to be Jackie Robinson's debut with the Montreal Royals in an exhibition game, but according to Wikipedia, "On March 5th, 1946, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group."

Robinson would later play in the stadium during the Grapefruit League seasons. Mulder said it was a good experience and wouldn't trade it.

"We saw first-hand and it was different than what we had seen," Mulder said. "We saw the real thing. We also had a chance to play in a stadium where Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and some of the greats played in the spring.

"A lot of us never really traveled, so this was a good deal."

Yes, the Vikings saw a part of history and learned a little more than how to hit a curve ball.


This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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