All American Game | Story | 7/30/2013

Baseball an opportunity for Day

Matt Rodriguez        
Photo: Perfect Game

A product of inner city Chicago, Darius Day has a gift and wants to use that gift to get his family out of the city someday. Day is off to a great start, being selected to play in the 2013 Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings in San Diego.

Recognized as the 35th best prospect in the nation for the class of 2014 and the top prospect in the state of Illinois, Day uses his time out of school to someday land out of Chicago, spending most of his time improving his baseball game.

His hard work has paid off in big ways. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound outfielder has worked his way to a baseball commitment with the University of Arizona, nearly 2,000 miles away from the city.

“I really wanted to get away from Chicago. I feel like in Chicago there’s not really a lot here if you wanna pursue baseball as a career,” Day said. “It’s not really the safest place in the world and I’m gonna try and get my family out.”

Day found himself in Minneapolis in mid-June for the Perfect Game National Showcase, where he stood out to scouts and made an impact on those making the All-American Classic selection.

One scout at the National Showcase wrote:

“…he runs a 6.5, throws 94 from the outfield and has a quick and balanced left-handed swing. I’m sure Chicago natives are going to see some Curtis Granderson in him as he gets stronger.”

“Being at the National Showcase was a great opportunity to show people that I can compete with everybody else and show baseball what Darius Day has to offer,” said Day. “I didn’t even know that they use the Perfect Game National (Showcase) for the All-American Classic. I was just out there playing baseball and having fun.”

That’s what Day is all about when he steps on the diamond. He enjoys the game day in and day out. He also takes the game very seriously and knows it could be his ticket to big things in the future, a life many inner city kids dream of. Day is within reach of those dreams.

“He knows that he’s close to reaching his goal of possibly being drafted and he knows that playing in the Classic puts him in that position to be drafted,” said Kevin Coe, one of Day’s coaches for his summer team, the Chicago White Sox ACE.

“As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, which he will, he’s gonna be okay,” said Simeon Career Academy coach Leroy Franklin. “The thing about Darius is he’s gonna be very successful.”

Coming from inner city Chicago, kids like Day immediately start off with a disadvantage compared to prep school kids from the South. The baseball season is shorter and so is the money. That is the reason why the Chicago White Sox created the Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite in 2007, a program that gives kids 13-years and older the opportunity to play travel baseball and receive top-notch instruction while not having to suffer the financial burden.

Robert Fletcher, one of Day’s ACE coaches who has been coaching Day since he was 10 years old, has been with the ACE program since its creation and is amazed by what the program has been able to accomplish.

“This program has helped the kids baseball-wise as well as character-wise and teaching them how to play the game the right way. We teach them a lot character-wise, which is gonna help them after baseball in the game of life,” Fletcher said. “These kids, a lot of them come from rough areas, but our program keeps them busy. They aren’t gang affiliated, they are ballplayers, and those who are gang affiliated respect that.”

Crime in Chicago has been a problem for a long time now. Business Insider cited that Chicago had 59 gangs and up to 125,000 members as of 2012. Last year was considered the deadliest year Chicago has ever had. The ACE program is just one of a list of efforts in the community meant to deter gang involvement.

Coe explained the ACE program is there to help kids at a young age, teach them the fundamentals of the game, and stress the importance of performance in the classroom.

Day has been a part of the ACE program since he was 13 years old. It has given him the opportunity to play competitive baseball on an equal playing field that the rest of the All-Americans have.

“It’s really a blessing,” Day said. “They’ve helped me out so much in the past few years. It’s just a bunch of good guys trying to get black athletes from Chicago out and into college.”

Since the program first began, Fletcher and Coe have seen tremendous progress with inner city baseball.

“We had 12 guys that signed Division I scholarships out of the class of 2013, and that’s a direct reflection of the White Sox ACE program,” Fletcher said.

“A lot of our kids go to the public schools in Chicago and the quality of baseball in the public schools has increased and it has allowed me to reach out to the public school coaches,” Coe said. “The most we had had at our tryout was 100 and last year we had 190 kids come to our tryout.”

“It’s what I look forward to. It’s the highlight of the summer,” Day said about playing with the White Sox ACE. I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. I can’t wait to get out of school just so I can travel and play ball.”

Day has traveled well this summer, attending the National Showcase in Minnesota, a tournament in Texas, and won the RBI Central Regional that was held at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. The RBI program is Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.

The highlight of Day’s summer will be when he plays in the PG All-American Classic at Petco Park in San Diego on August 11th.

“I feel like it’s a blessing,” said Day on being selected. “It just proves that all that work that you put in finally pays off.”

Coaches continuously praise the hard work that Day puts in, whether it’s on the baseball field or in the classroom.

“He’s a student of the game. He’s always bugging me about practice or extra hitting or extra defense. He’s always asking questions about his at-bats,” Coe said. “He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached in my life, maybe the smartest.”

“Darius is a passionate baseball player. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Darius since he was 10 years old, before the White Sox ACE program,” Fletcher said. “He’s always had a knack for baseball and always has a smile on his face when he’s playing. (He’s) one of the best kids I’ve ever coached as far as attitude-wise.”

“He’s a great student-athlete,” added Franklin. “We instill in our ballplayers that you have to do your schoolwork first.”

One thing Coe said Darius has that many players don’t is the combination of athleticism with an extremely high baseball IQ.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a better talent with as high of an IQ as Darius,” Coe said.

Leroy Franklin, a baseball legend in the state of Illinois who has amassed over 700 wins and sent over a hundred players on to the collegiate baseball level in three decades of coaching at Simeon Career Academy, had plenty to say about Day.

“I’ve had two or three first round picks. I’ve had a National Player of the Year. I’ve had some great kids in the past, but he’s one of the best student-athletes to come through Simeon,” Franklin said. “He’s a very good kid, very coachable kid, tremendous player, good character – he’s an overall great kid.”

Day has had the privilege of receiving some of the best coaching in the state, playing high school baseball with Franklin and summer ball with a coaching staff that all have collegiate or professional experience. Day knows how fortunate he is to have a high school coach with so much knowledge and experience.

“They say he’s changed a lot over the past few years. They say he’s gotten soft on us,” Day laughed. “Coach Franklin’s a great coach. He knows a lot about the game and you wanna soak it in and use it to your advantage. He’s been winning a lot in his three decades. He’s had a lot of draft picks. We won state championships this year and last year.”

Perhaps more impressive than Day’s game on the field is the type of person day is. Coaches have emphasized that his character speaks louder than his game.

“He knows that he has a special ability and doesn’t take anything for granted and he’s about as humble as they get,” Coe said. “He’s an even better person than he is a baseball player. He’s one of those kids that I would trust with my last dollar. He’s a great kid and I don’t mind helping him out anytime he calls or asks.”

“The thing about Darius is he’s a leader,” said Fletcher. “Darius is a hard working kid. Both his parents have sacrificed a lot to allow him to play baseball. He comes from a hard working family. They did a fine job raising that boy.”

“The kids just love being around him,” added Franklin. “They, more or less, look up to him. The thing about Darius is he wants to be the best. He works hard to be the best.”

Inner city kids of Chicago will have Day to look up to when he represents inner city baseball and the Chicago White Sox ACE at the All-American Classic.

“Being invited to participate in the Classic hasn’t changed him at all, it’s actually made him a lot hungrier,” said Coe. “He’s the first kid out of our program to play in the Classic. He works harder than anybody else and he’s definitely a true inner city kid.”

Coaches and teammates of Day will tune in to watch Day play baseball on the biggest amateur stage there is, chasing his dream of playing professional baseball and giving back to his family. Day’s long time coach, Robert Fletcher will surely be watching the kid he’s seen grow from his youth.

“It’s been a pleasure seeing him grow into the player he’s become.”

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