Center field can be an isolated spot.

One writer compared playing the post to holding a vantage point from a distance. You see all the human drama transpiring from afar, waiting for a crisis – say, a line reader – that will demand your quick response.

My youth league coach stuck me there in the big days of the Foxfire-Ponderosa Athletic Association. I was basically the kind of kid who hoped a fly ball would go someone else’s way. As I waited for the batter, I tried unsuccessfully to stop myself from daydreaming about “Star Wars,” or Atari, or the pink sodas waiting for us in the coolers after the game.

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I was perfectly mediocre. The Myron Pitts baseball card is the one you grouped together with a bunch of other average players to trade for a really good player.

Myron Pitts poses for a photo with his 1979 youth baseball team, the Braves.

I hit exactly two home runs in six years, and those are two of the greatest things I own. We didn’t have a fence on the field in front of Westover High School, so when you hit a home run, you really have to pop it, baby, and run faster than the outfielder chasing your ball. The only other image on my highlight reel is becoming a backup on the all-star team, having aged and moved to third base.

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Statistics aside, I wouldn’t trade my baseball years for anything.

A group of fathers, including my own, started the league in the 1970s and filled it with players and coaches mostly from two majority black neighborhoods, then west of Cumberland County, now part from the city. I remember many times my dad got together with Matt Welch on sports association business.

My two older brothers and I all played years in the league. Our coaches were people like Coach Avery, around the corner from our house, or Mr. Green, just down the street.

The Foxfire-Ponderosa Athletic Association, in addition to providing youth sports, included adult women's softball teams.  Marshall Pitts Sr., left, coached a team that included his wife (#10), Carol W. Pitts.

The league offered baseball, football, basketball, and cheerleading and attracted hundreds of players, coaches, and family members, and helped create a sense of community. In its heyday, Fox-Pon even encompassed adult women’s softball. I vividly remember the comical situations that happened after my dad became my mom’s coach.

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My dad was the athletic director, but his good friend Coach Banks was the president. Banks was a likeable man but also an imposing figure – when needed.

Just as some sports parents today can get out of control, they could also get messy back then, even in the mild 1970s. lay low, lay low” until he arrives. The banks took care of that.

Looking at the Fox-Pon association, how it came about, what drove it, I can easily see that fathers like mine were a key element that fueled the whole operation. Of course, the mothers served as a common thread in the association as they did in most families.

But the sports association was full of black male role models. Maybe I took that for granted.

The Fox-Pon years have been on my mind as we celebrate both June 19 and Father’s Day this weekend.

Juneteenth is festive but also bittersweet. It celebrates a people, my ancestors, coming out of a horrible situation in which no human should ever have found themselves.

It’s also a reminder that slavery among its many evils was also an assault on the Black family. Fathers and mothers were not allowed to perform their traditional roles.

In many ways, the concept of black fatherhood remains under attack. We all hear the negatives – too. You hear about crime, gun violence, absenteeism. You don’t hear enough about people like my dad, now 79, a former Fayetteville State University biology professor, businessman, church deacon, faithful husband and father – the ” Papa P” beloved by his grandchildren (he even has a Papa P front license plate to prove it).

Fox-Pon reminds me of those fathers, the unsung heroes.

The importance of these leagues in honing talent for the next level, in sport and in life, cannot be overstated.

Youth sports, as any coach or player parent can tell you, is more than just sports. The vast majority of kids who play there will go to work in jobs other than athletics. Youth sports are about building character and teaching life skills. Teach how to control the moment and overcome doubts.

Baseball, for example, requires players to have a number of skills that are difficult to acquire if not learned early. Natural ability is always a boon, but great baseball players need to be built. So the ever-decreasing number of black players in high school, college, and Major League Baseball should come as no surprise — considering the ever-decreasing number of sports associations like Fox-Pon.

I get a little heartbroken knowing that so many black kids will never experience the feeling of butterflies when you’re standing in the batting box, and your parents, friends and neighbors eyes are all glued to two people – little old you and that guy on the mound.

Baseball, football, basketball, and cheerleading were among the sports offered by the Foxfire-Ponderosa Athletic Association.  Among the attendees was Marshall Pitts Jr., back row, right, who became Fayetteville's first black mayor.

many strengths conspired to separate black kids from baseball, and you can easily forget that life wasn’t always like this. Sometimes Fox-Pon’s days seem like a dream.

Smarter people than me have tried to figure out why so few black kids are interested in this wonderful game. Major League Baseball itself recognizes the problem and has programs and funds to encourage greater participation of black youth.

For some, rappers and pop culture have blessed basketball, not baseball, with that “cool” factor so important to young people. Rap and the NBA go hand in hand, and retro NBA jerseys were for a time as much a part of a rapper’s uniform as costume jewelry.

But it’s more than that.

For a, baseball can be an expensive sport for many parents, when you factor in the bat, balls, glove, uniform, batting helmet, etc. I can speak from experience, as both of our children have played on teams this year.

(Samuel and Helen Ann, as it happens, played for teams that were both called the Phillies. The other day I found myself shooting for the Major League Phillies as well.)

Myron B. Pitts

In addition to the equipment costs to play the game, there has for many years been a general trend in urban planning towards fewer public ball diamonds and a general lack of investment in urban corridors, especially minority communities . Baseball takes up more space than basketball.

All of this reminds me that we had something really special at Fox-Pon.

These black fathers dedicated their time, energy, and talent to help shape generations of young African Americans.

They were great fathers. They were great men.

Opinion writer Myron B. Pitts can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3559.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted and updated from a previous version originally published in The Fayetteville Observer on May 11, 2008.