EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - If anyone knows the worst of America, it’s the young man sitting in the dugout at PK Park in Eugene.
He doesn’t need to be told that evil exists in the world, that darkness and hatred walk the streets in everyday clothes. He knows.
His mom was in the church.
Chris Singleton, one the newest Eugene Emeralds, is doing what a first-year player does in professional baseball. He’s trying to impress his new team, getting used to a new city, adjusting to the long bus rides and the late nights in the Northwest League.
As he does it, he’s carrying the memory of his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, one of nine people gunned down inside Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.
The killer, Dylann Roof, is an avowed white supremacist who walked into a Wednesday night Bible study with a .45-caliber Glock handgun and 88 hollow-point bullets. His stated goal was to incite a race war.
Having seen this hatred up close, Singleton isn’t surprised when white nationalists take to the streets in places like Charlottesville, Virginia. He isn’t surprised by the violence, the racial tensions, the veneration of Confederate monuments or the rhetoric coming from America’s highest office.
But still he has hope.
“When I came into the world, there was racism,” Singleton said. “When I die, there’s probably still going to be racism. But it’s our job to better it for the next generation. That’s what I feel like.”
From his mother, Singleton learned a passion for sports and a passion for God. He dreamed of becoming a professional athlete and planned to buy Sharonda, a pastor and high school track coach, a Range Rover when he signed his first contract.
Singleton, an outfielder, was 19 and headed into his sophomore season at Charleston Southern University when his mother was killed. This June, almost two years to the day after the shooting, the Cubs picked him in the 19th round of the MLB draft.
Singleton couldn’t buy her a car, so he decided to honor his mother in a different way. He does it by telling her story wherever he goes, which in minor league baseball can be almost anywhere.
Singleton described himself as a missionary in the minor leagues, but in a way he’s more like an itinerant preacher. When he shares his Christian faith, the words carry the weight of everything he’s been through.
“I definitely think I was chosen for what’s happened to me,” Singleton said. “I hear this all the time: ‘Dude, I don’t know how you could have done this,’ or ‘I don’t know how you get through that.’ But it wasn’t just me going through that. I feel like I was given this opportunity for a greater cause.”
After his mother’s death, Singleton did a remarkable thing. He publicly forgave her killer, just as Sharonda would have wanted.
Singleton has been forgiving every day since, choosing hope over bitterness at every turn. He’s received overwhelming support, but he also gets the other side - conspiracy theorists sending him messages on Facebook, saying the shooting was a hoax and his mother is alive somewhere in India.
His faith in God and humanity isn’t shaken.
“Some people out there, they struggle with stuff like that,” Singleton said with a shrug. “I don’t really pay too much attention.”
Nor, Singleton said, has he ever asked why or wished the burden on someone else.
“I don’t ever think there was a time when I said, ‘I don’t want this responsibility on me,’?” he said. “Obviously there’s times I’ve said I want my mom back, stuff like that. But I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given.”
The Cubs have been adamant that Singleton’s story, compelling as it is, didn’t factor in their decision to draft him. He earned his promotion to Eugene by hitting .304 in the Arizona Rookie League and has nine hits in 10 games for the Emeralds since his call-up.
Statistically, 19th-round picks face a tough road to the major leagues, but Singleton’s speed and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect to the Cubs organization.
“When you’re around him, you fall in love with him immediately,” said Tim Cossins, the Cubs’ minor league field and catching coordinator. “The personality and the makeup and all those qualities you look for are there.
“The story is incredible in itself, but we’re not about the story as much as we’re about his makeup and his abilities. You add all those things together, and you get the total of all those parts.”
The nature of minor league baseball means no one stays in the same place for very long. Singleton eventually will move on, bringing with him the story of the church in Charleston and how forgiveness trumps hate.
“It’s an awkward conversation,” Singleton said, “but that’s the opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m ready to take it on.”
Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com
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