2011-02-09 / News


By Dennis J. Freeman
Bulletin Staff Writer

CBATS players practice at Centennial High School. CBATS players practice at Centennial High School. An outfielder shags a couple of fly balls then returns to harsh reality off the field, walking home through gang territory, not sure if he will make it home safely. Another player shines at a game, then confronts a family setting where just putting food on the table is a struggle. These are the young lives the Compton Baseball Academy Teams (CBATS) have touched, the sheer number of which would be hard to quantify.

Not just another baseball program, CBATS saves lives. It is a program that builds self-esteem, teaches players to make sound decisions and reach for a future that few thought they had potential for. While learning the sport of baseball is the essential function of the program, the sport is secondary to the life skills CBATS founder and Centennial High School baseball coach Gerald Pickens is able to pass on to the players, some of whom come from families with deep ties to local criminal gangs and chose to participate in CBATS hoping to break the cycle of violence in their homes.

Desmond Henry (middle) is one of the best baseball prospects to benefit from coach Gerald Pickens (top photo, red shirt) teaching in the CBATS program. 
Photos by Dennis J. Freeman Desmond Henry (middle) is one of the best baseball prospects to benefit from coach Gerald Pickens (top photo, red shirt) teaching in the CBATS program. Photos by Dennis J. Freeman For Pickens, the needs of a lot of his players outweighs the importance of fielding ground balls and smacking home runs.

“When I played baseball, nobody gave me any interest,” Pickens said. “I swore that if I could, I would give back and help some of the kids. A lot of them don’t have any money to pay for food. I give them what I didn’t have.”

While many players were placed in the program by family members, a few players like Centennial High School outfielder Desmond Henry, joined up out of pure curiosity.

Henry, who joined CBATS at age six, following older brother Raymond down to Gonzales Park is considered to be one of the top high school baseball prospects in the country. According to Baseball America’s Top 100, Henry is rated as the 45th best high school baseball player nationwide.

The Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Florida Marlins and Pittsburg Pirates are just a handful of the major league baseball teams interested in adding Henry to their lineup.

The tutelage and wisdom of Pickens kept him on the right path, Henry said.

“Without him, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Henry. “I would be locked…. because he saved me plenty of times from trouble. One time when I was messing up in school around the seventh grade, he gave me a real talk, showed me where I can be at, if I kept doing what I was doing. Four years later, it happened. I took that (advice) as though he was right the whole time.”

Pickens, grooming youngsters as a fixture on the Compton little league scene since 1973, incorporated CBATS in1989. But all the work that Pickens put into the program was nearly undone over a perceived conflict of interest dispute.

That dispute with the City of Compton resulted in Pickens losing his job as a recreation specialist and cost his players valuable practice time, when, a month ago Pickens was ordered off the Gonzales Park field. The following Tuesday, Mayor Eric Perrodin and the City Council, after listening to testimony from parents and coaches, gave vocal support for the CBATS program and Pickens.

While he has been forced to take his players to Centennial High School for practice, Pickens told the Compton Bulletin that the dispute is being resolved and he expects to be back at Gonzales Park sometime this week.

“The kids are very, very happy,” said Pickens, and the happiest is likely Dalon Bascman. Bascman’s mother signed him up for the program and it’s been a literal life-saver for the senior right fielder. Playing for CBATS has kept him away from the temptation of street life, he said.

“It keeps me off the streets. It keeps me from gang-banging,” said Bascman, who is being recruited by TCU. “I have family (members) that are known gang members. I am an athlete. I am trying to get my life together. I am not a part of any gang. If it wasn’t for Coach Pickens, I wouldn’t be playing baseball.”

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