- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

When Chuck Hinton retired as Howard University's baseball coach in 1999 after 28 years, he decided to stay more than a couple of loud fungoes away "so the new coach [Jimmy Williams] wouldn't think I was looking over his shoulder."
By and large, Hinton succeeded, not even appearing very often at Bison games. Yet the school's decision last week to drop baseball at least partially as a way of complying with Title IX gender equality standards wounded him.
Hinton was a fat cut or two above your average college baseball coach. He was a solid major league player for 11 seasons and remains the answer to a significant local trivia question: Who was the only player to bat .300 for the expansion Senators (.310 in 1962)?
He also posted a winning record and collected seven Mid-East Athletic Conference titles at Howard, spent 28 years helping area youngsters with the D.C. Recreation Department, founded the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association and has just published a book called "My Time at Bat: A Story of Perseverance" that tells of his life and the faith that motivates it.
As you would expect, Hinton believes deeply in baseball and the values it imparts. That's why he laments Howard's decision and the general decline of the sport's availability for young men.
As far as Howard is concerned, "I'm crushed for all the District kids who could have stayed home to play ball and gone to a fine [academic] institution," he said the other day. "And when you consider that the school also dropped wrestling, that means there are 26 black kids who probably won't be able to go to college at all."
During Hinton's tenure at Howard, he had as many as 11 full scholarships a year to offer, although often they were fragmented to benefit more students. In other ways, though, baseball often was an stepchild as were most sports at a school that ranks among the nation's finest predominantly black institutions. The Bison have no home field on which to play and practice, making their games a traveling road show. And baseball is an expensive sport to maintain while bringing in very little revenue for most colleges.
"I can understand why, for economic reasons, it was an easy decision to drop the sport," conceded Hinton. And if he were still coach? "Well, I might have ranted and raved a little, but it wouldn't have done much good."
Baseball's decline as the sport of choice for many young athletes also hurts Hinton. "When I was growing up [in Rocky Mount, N.C.], baseball was the sport. How long has it been since you saw a bunch of kids playing 'choose-up'? We did it every day, from March to November. Yeah, there were other seasons, but they were short seasons. Back then, every kid had a baseball glove. Now "
The most common perception is that many inner-city children prefer basketball to baseball, but Hinton insists that soccer must share the blame, if that's what it is. At every level of youth sport, many fields once used for baseball have been converted to soccer this despite 30 years of evidence that relatively few native Americans care to watch the world's most popular game as played by professionals.
"Even at the junior high and high school level, baseball is not what it should be," Hinton said. "I'd love to give clinics or help coaches but nobody has asked me. Baseball is a very low priority in the District. I remember when a lot of baseball was played at 16th and Kennedy streets [in Rock Creek Park]. Now all the facilities there are for tennis and soccer."
But will baseball make a comeback among today's or tomorrow's youth?
"Nope, forget it," Hinton said. "It's too late. It's over."
And this obituary comes from a guy who always looks for the positive side of life. Back when Chuck was lining out hits and playing several positions for the Senators, his joy in the game was infectious. Now, though, he finds less and less pleasure at what our erstwhile national pastime has become, on all levels.
There is compensation, however, in the joy he finds in retirement at 68 especially since a medical emergency two months ago left him on life support.
Hinton collapsed twice and was rushed to the hospital; the first time his heart stopped momentarily. The diagnosis was that a buildup of fluid in his lungs had affected the heart a condition that has been corrected by angioplasty, diet and medication. Yet it was a scary time for Chuck and his family.
Thank goodness, Washington's last .300 hitter survived to slam drives and sink putts at Langston Golf Course another day. Baseball in D.C., sad to say, may not be as lucky.

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