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Angels’ Jo Adell on the impact of coronavirus, protests and the loss of baseball

The rising star opens up about how recent events have affected him

As the top prospect with the Los Angeles Angels, Jo Adell chronicled his second season of professional baseball last year, from his first spring training to his rapid rise through Double-A and Triple-A. In March, Adell was attending his second spring training with the Angels when sports were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adell returned home to Louisville, Kentucky, which has been in the news with the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. Adell discusses the impact the events of recent months have had on his life, the issues he’s faced as being a black man and his hope for the possible return of baseball this season.

Our practice had just ended during spring training, and I was driving to my apartment when I felt like my world was shook. The news came in the form of a text blast to all the players:

Come to the facility and get your stuff. It’s time to evacuate. Baseball is going into a full shutdown.

We all knew this was due to the coronavirus and, in a matter of hours, I had packed my entire apartment and booked a trip home to Louisville. In less than 48 hours, I was on a plane out of Arizona, and as we took off in the midst of what would be a global pandemic, I felt like my world couldn’t have been more rattled.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in February, less than two weeks after the official start of spring training. Breonna Taylor was killed in my hometown of Louisville in March, the day after baseball was shut down. And George Floyd got murdered in May. Now, I find myself consumed less with the return of baseball, and more with the challenges that black people in this country are experiencing.

It’s sad. It’s upsetting. And it’s made everyone understand why black people in this country always feel on the edge of exploding.

People look at me and others in my profession and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t impact you.’ Some of those people are beginning to understand that regardless of who you are, and what you do, what happens in your life can be dictated by the color of your skin.

You can be a Harvard-educated bird-watcher, yet a white woman puts you at risk by telling police a black man is threatening her and her dog.

You can be a famous black comedian like Jay Pharoah, and still get struck with fear when a group of officers rolls up on you with their guns drawn.

We always hear you’re innocent until proven guilty, but black people are mostly guilty until proven innocent. That’s based on skin color, where we often get categorized as being a problem or being less than human.

That’s what happened to me during a baseball game in Birmingham, Alabama, in my first full season as a professional. I was starting in center field and as I scanned the crowd, two guys stood up and screamed, ‘F— you, you black piece of s—.’

I give the security team credit; they came out and removed the two guys from the game swiftly. The most disappointing part was not what was said by the two guys, but the fact that everyone in the stands sat around and did not say a word. There were kids there, and no one said anything. Silence condones racism. Even though you weren’t the one who said it or you weren’t the one who promoted it, not having a response makes you part of the problem.

If you’re black, you’re always finding yourself being judged.

I was judged by the owner of the convenience store near my high school that forced me — and the other black students — to leave our book bags outside whenever we came in to buy snacks before school started. Now as crazy as this sounds to all of you reading this right now, that was my reality. The owner of the store didn’t know me at all! I had committed no crime ever in that store or any store, but the color of my skin and the friends that joined me screamed ‘high-risk’ to him. To this day, if I’m carrying a bag before I enter any store, I leave it in my car.

I was judged by a girl I dated whom I had known for years. This girl never told her parents that we were in a relationship, despite the fact that both of our families knew each other well because we were both athletes. After a year, she eventually told her parents. When I was reporting to camp, I received a phone call from her stating that her family could never accept the fact that she was in an interracial relationship. With that, as I boarded the plane, I told her if she felt her family couldn’t accept the fact I was black, then we were done. That relationship and friendship ended right there. That’s when I really knew that it never mattered who I was as a person. It never mattered how well I treated her. The only thing that mattered was the color of my skin, black, and that was always going to be a problem for them. That experience is a prime example of how racism can breed family prejudice that is passed down from generation to generation.

I was judged even as I was being evaluated by scouts coming out of high school. Do you know how many times I was described as being a ‘raw and toolsy’ player? Why are these words always used to describe black players, but never are we described as having a ‘high baseball IQ,’ an ‘advanced approach’ or ‘being low-risk’? It’s important to know that by the time most black baseball players are being scouted professionally, many have been playing the sport for over a decade. Just like white players. So why are we ‘raw and toolsy’ and considered ‘high-risk’? When a scout uses these terms to describe a player, more times than not they’re describing a black baseball player. I was never a multisport guy; I had been playing baseball exclusively for over 10 years. I had traveled the country playing with and competing against the best players in my class, so why am I ‘raw, toolsy and high-risk’?

All of these terms are code words used to separate black and white players. If you ever read the scouting report of Cam Newton coming out of Auburn … the one where he was described as being, ‘Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup,’ you’ll understand how young black athletes, no matter how talented they are, are unfairly judged.

What’s happened in this world over the past three months has been heavy, especially for young people like myself who have faced the most confusing stretch of our lives.

The pandemic, the killings, the protests are events hard to deal with on their own. To have to face them from month to month to month is draining. I’m glad that young black people — and young people of all races — are beginning to realize that their voices have power. And I’m glad to see that some people who don’t live in our world — white people in positions of power — are beginning to open their eyes and ears and listen to what our people have been telling them what’s been happening to them for so long.

We all need a release from the pandemic, the lockdown and chaos. Hopefully, my release will come by playing baseball again this season.

For all we’ve experienced in this country so far this year, we could all use an escape.

I miss the game. I miss my teammates. I miss the people who work within the organization, many of those who work in support roles who have been furloughed. For me, this was my second major league camp, and I was excited to see where I fit in with all of the hard work I put in during the offseason. In my mind, things were going really well and I was getting to the point where I was starting to see the ball better and better and taking more comfortable at-bats. I was ready for the season. Being in big-league camp for the second time went smoother and I felt like everything was coming together for me.

Since leaving Arizona in March, I’ve continued to work hard and tried to keep myself ready to return to baseball. We’re so used to a rhythm of a baseball season, and right now I try to stay mentally sharp knowing that I can get a text any day saying that we’re going to start spring training in a week.

It would be great, if baseball returns, that I could possibly be a part of the major league team if there are roster expansions. To be able to travel with the team, be around the players on a regular basis and get that experience would help with my development.

Our union is looking for an agreement that the players deserve. That includes proper compensation. You have some players who don’t make a lot, some players who have families to provide for and some players with kids on the way. The players are risking their health to go out and play this game, and they want those risks to be rewarded for playing in the midst of a pandemic where people have lost their lives.

Hopefully, there can be an agreement that’s fair for everyone. To me, a return to baseball would be a return to a life that’s somewhat normal. For players and fans, it just might provide an escape.

For all we’ve experienced in this country so far this year, we could all use an escape.

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.