Showcase | Story | 8/13/2020

Chapman not derailed by racial jeers

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jeremiah Chapman (Perfect Game)

MARION, Iowa – The scene at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex the morning of Aug. 8 was nothing short of idyllic, the kind of beautiful summer day that has forever helped young athletes fall in love with the game of baseball in the first place.

More than 100 prospects from a six-state area were on hand that morning for the 22nd annual Perfect Game Midwest Prospect Showcase which was held at Prospect Meadows for the first time. And none of them seemed happier to be there than 17-year-old Jeremiah Chapman from Charles City, Iowa.

“It’s nice out here,” Chapman told PG, smiling broadly while taking a short break during the workout session. “I’m getting to know new people and I’m getting to see different people (do their workouts); it’s a good experience. …

“I’m already feeding off their energy, like when I was running they were cheering for me a little bit. I really just want to do the best I can.”

This was Chapman’s first showcase experience and he was drinking it all in. He ran a 6.90-second 60-yard-dash to get things started and then looked to get more settled-in. Also settling in and looking forward to the two-day event were Jeremiah’s parents, Keisha Cunnings and Jimmy Chapman. They, too, looked to be quite comfortable in this setting and also eager to watch their son perform.

“This is just a great opportunity for him to experience something different,” Keisha said. “I’m excited because I think this can open up other opportunities for him. And I think he’s excited about it, too.”

“(Jeremiah) loves baseball,” Jimmy added. “He’s pretty good back home but I wanted him to be able to see that he can be compared with some of the best in the state. He has to understand that and I think it took us getting here for him to understand it.”

The showcase was putting a cap on what was a tumultuous summer on the baseball field for Chapman. The state of Iowa played a truncated summer high school season and the junior Chapman was the starting centerfielder for the Charles City Comets, playing in all 18 of their games (he hit .296 with a couple of triples, 10 RBI and a team-high seven stolen bases).

But it was during a double-header with Northeast Iowa Conference (NEIC) rival Waverly-Shell Rock in early July when things took an ugly turn. While playing the field, W-SR students who were sitting beyond the outfield fence began to harass Chapman with racial taunts, starting with calling him “Colin” which he assumed was in reference to Colin Kaepernick.

It got worse. At one point the hecklers yelled that Chapman “should go back to the fields” and later jeered that he “should have been George Floyd” referring to the Black man who was murdered while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Chapman told his coaches what had taken place and one of the game’s umpires told him he’d stop the game and have the offending fans removed from the field but Chapman played on. News of the incident spread not only across Iowa but across the country and there are ongoing repercussions.

Despite an apology from W-SR High School administrators, Charles City has asked for a one-year break from playing games against the school; there was also talk of removing W-SR from the NEIC. More than a month removed from the incident, Chapman continues to take the high road while also remaining resolute in his thoughts and actions.

“I can’t change people’s opinions and thoughts but I know that I can’t be perfect for everyone,” he told PG. “That’s what I’m doing now, I’m opening up to new people and I’m getting to know different people and different things about them. So that’s what I’m doing; I’m just going to start exploring.”

No parent wants to see their child put in a situation where he or she is forced to grow up too fast, but that is exactly what Jeremiah Chapman had to do when the racist taunts were hurled his direction that July day in Waverly. While she was saddened that this ugly reality was forced upon her son, Keisha also felt the experience was humbling for her.

“It reassured me that he is ready to go out on his own just from the way he handled the situation and I appreciate that,” she said. “It gives me a little bit more comfort to know that he’ll be going off to college next year and I think he’ll be OK.”

It was noteworthy that Chapman’s mom was wearing her “Jeremiah’s Fan Club” t-shirt on this morning. The Fan Club was formed by a group of about 20 people, most from nearby Waterloo, who started showing up at Charles City’s remaining games and sitting out behind the centerfield fence.

They wore the shirts, held up signs, clanged cowbells and generally just showed their support for Chapman and his teammates.

“No kid should be talked to like that. That’s just not OK,” Fan Club member Corey Muhammad, a football and girls’ basketball coach at Waterloo East HS, told the Des Moines Register. “And we just wanted to be supportive, wanted to be positive; let him know he has support and we had his back.”

And people from all over the world, including several MLB players continue to have his back weeks after the season ended. Former PG participant, Duke standout and current New York Mets righthander Marcus Strohman has been especially supportive of Chapman throughout the ordeal and has even assumed the role of a mentor to the young man,

“I’m still getting texts and (letters) from people wondering if I’m OK,” Chapman said. “I’ve been writing a lot of them back just to let them know that I’m doing OK. … I’m taking it as a learning experience because I know that probably won’t be the last time so I’m just going to learn from it. I’ve been talking to other people and they’ve been giving me advice throughout.”

Chapman is getting ready to begin his senior year at Charles City HS on Aug. 27 where he’ll receive a combination of in-person and online instruction. He’s already started football practice – Iowa is moving ahead with a fall schedule – and returns as one of the Comets’ top running backs (421 yds., 4 TDs last season), kick returners and defensive backs.

And his athletic interests are limited to the baseball and football fields, either. At 6-foot-3, he plays in the front court on the Comets’ basketball team and he runs the 400-meter low hurdles and is a part of the 400 and 800-meter relays for the track team. That’s a  lot of balls in the air to juggle, but he makes it work.

“It gets kind of hard but after the first couple of weeks I’ve adjusted from sport to sport,” Chapman said. “Switching from (one to another), all the conditioning is different but I get used to it after a while.”

Time management is key, especially during the school year. There is class work, of course, to go with morning and afternoon practices, weight-lifting, film study and homework. His weekends are just as jam-packed as his weekdays and he’s playing AAU basketball this summer. The team he plays for was at an AAU tournament in Ames while he was at Prospect Meadows on Aug. 8.

Chapman’s parents take pride in how he assimilates into the fabric of his high school experience and Jimmy said he’s also been pleased with the support the family has received from the Charles City community as a whole.

“I was a little afraid at first because I didn’t know how it was going to be handled – I don’t think they’ve ever had to deal with anything like that before,” Jimmy said. “They just showed that we’re a more stand-up community than the community that the situation came from.

“For me, that was enough to know that,” he added. “When we decided to bring our family to Charles City, it just showed that we made a good decision.”

Keisha did tell PG that she’s sure she wouldn’t have handled the racial taunts as well as her son did, praising the maturity he showed. She’s not happy that it had to happen to her son in the first place but she also feels like it can serve as an eye-opening experience for her and Jimmy. Bringing him to the PG MW Prospect Show was an important step forward.

“I just don’t want his love for the game to go away,” Keisha said. “I’m glad that he’s here, he’s going to meet new people and he can just experience something different. So I’m hoping the love of the game grows and he wants to continue to play.”

It’s a hope that Jimmy shares, as well:

“At one point we didn’t even know if he was going to continue to play sports after the situation,” he said. “So with him being here, he’s excited, he’s mingling with people. It doesn’t take much to please me but the fact that he’s interacting with other people – he’s kind of a shy kid. And … I want him to love the game and doing stuff like this will make that grow.”

Yes, Jeremiah Chapman was feeling pretty much at home during his time at the PG Midwest Prospect Showcase. He’ll never forget the ugliness forced upon him early in the summer but he’s not dwelling on it either.

“I’m just really trying to get used to it here,” he said. “There are people here with good abilities and I’ve never seen this playing (high school) ball. There’s people here from all over so I’m just taking it all in.”

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