In his nearly 52 years of living, Detroit native Garrett Street has mastered the art of listening — with his nose. And when his nose picks up the scent of leather baseball gloves and other gear coming from a bulging equipment bag, he knows his life could not be any better.
“It’s a fragrance to it,” explains Street, director and creator of Legends League Baseball, a grassroots spring-to-fall youth sports program that has served more than 5,000 boys and girls locally since 2016.
Street describes giving in to boyish curiosity at his first Little League practice when he unzipped an unattended equipment bag to examine the contents, leading to his first whiff of the “fragrance.”
“I call it a fragrance and not an odor because it’s not a bad smell — it’s definitely something good — and that smell put me on a path that God had for me,” he said.
He had a feeling of déjà vu roughly 25 years later, in 2005, as a first-year volunteer coach for Detroit PAL.
“We get out to Peterson (Park) and the equipment bag I had been issued was in my trunk,” said Street, recalling the day he met his 10-and-under Detroit Braves. “I hadn’t even really looked at the bag. I was more worried about us having enough kids, but when I opened it, it was that same smell …
“This may sound kind of crazy, but that smell brought me back to the pure essence of why I was given the gift and taught the things that I was taught about baseball,” he said. “It was all for me to teach these things to other kids.”
Nate Ford, a classmate of Street at Cass Tech, who coached alongside Street when he began with PAL, is in awe.
“Coaching, picking up kids, taking them home, coming out of his pocket to help, throw in babysitter too; he does this all year,” Ford said. “Street has been doing what we all talk about — being a positive role model.”
Prior to that day at Peterson Park, Street candidly described much of his adult life as a “process of finding myself.” But after that day, the seeker became a doer when it came to kids and baseball.
Street’s flurry of activities has entailed introducing baseball to local youth; forming and coaching teams in multiple age divisions; fundraising to help sponsor individual players and teams; recruiting coaches and umpires; maintaining local baseball fields; and more.
“It’s a way to keep a lot of kids out of harm’s way,” said Street, who is expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 teams (ages 8-14) to participate in Legends League Baseball this year by the end of fall.
Tie to Willie Horton
Detroit baseball is in Street’s blood. His father, Bill, was a teammate of Detroit Tigers icon Willie Horton on a Northwestern High School squad that won a city championship in 1959.
Nonetheless, Garrett Street’s mission to help local youth through baseball could have been relatively short lived. His initial plan was to be a volunteer coach for a year or two. But his outlook began to change after meeting a studious-looking boy wearing glasses with good size for his age.
Frank Coopwood was the first kid to show up on that impactful day at Peterson Park. Their relationship would provide a template for how “Coach Street” would connect with youth for the next 14 years, and their bond was topped off with an unforgettable nickname: “Prove ‘em Wrong.”
“Coach Street mentored me from the very first day I met him,” said Coopwood, who first earned his nickname for smashing a home run in a game after the opposition and even members on his own team said he wouldn’t make contact. More hits followed for Coopwood, who became an All-City baseball performer and team most valuable player at Mumford High School (Class of 2015).
Today Coopwood, 23, is employed locally by a company that tests vehicles for the major automakers. He has been on the dean’s list at Oakland Community College and wants to re-enroll this fall with the hope of earning a scholarship to Wayne State. He also dreams of playing baseball at Wayne in front of loved ones, particularly Coach Street.
“In dealing with us as young men, Coach Street was always someone giving us that structure, giving us a goal and keeping us focused, and not just in baseball,” said Coopwood, who also made close friendships with teammates on the Braves that remain today.
Another early turning point for Street during his youth baseball journey was a trip the Braves took to St. Louis in 2009 made possible by Detroit PAL and Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
Many of the activities stressed education and careers, which helped Street to envision the long-term impact he could make. Upon his return from St. Louis, he started thinking about forming more teams. Creating new teams led to sponsoring tournaments, and then putting on clinics, which ultimately led to creating Legends League Baseball.
This path unfolded as his family responsibilities were rapidly growing. Since the time Street began coaching youth in 2005, he became a husband (wife, Angie), father to his youngest daughter (Savannah, sister of Summer) and a grandfather (granddaughter, Gracelyn Ford). Still, those closest to him say he has never wavered when it comes to giving kids his all.
To grow his baseball program, Street has heavily engaged family and friends, while making new community allies. He still expresses gratitude about a grant he received from former Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and credits former Wayne County Commissioner Keith Williams for the “Legends League” name and other support. Street’s community “angel’s list” also includes Sam Abrams, formerly of the Tigers; former UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, along with a host of school principals, coaches and other youth programs.
“When we first met with him, he came with his mother (Barbara Weiss-Street) and Vice President Settles and I heard testimonies from students and parents,” said Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, Detroit Public Schools Community District board vice president, who met Street when she was community relations coordinator for the UAW Ford Department. “We were just really impressed by what they were doing despite a lack of resources.”
Over time, Street earned UAW-Ford’s support for Legends League Baseball, and later a job as field manager for two sites: the UAW-Ford Championship Field at Balduck Park near East English Village and the William Clay Ford Field located in the Woodbridge community.
“I’m happy we have the two new fields of dreams, because I know what it means for Garrett to have kids from his league play on them, but I will never forget the years he was taking on the terrible fields we had in the city and cleaning them up himself so kids could play,” said Chris McGhee, a Detroit firefighter, who has served as an announcer and provided field maintenance at some Legends League games.
“What really gives me joy is that it is all for the kids. It’s a developmental league so it helps kids get their skills together, but more than that, it keeps them off the streets, gives them something to do, and makes them feel like they are a part of something.”
In describing some of his baseball adventures, Street shares a story about a kid being tackled while running the bases during a free baseball clinic he was conducting at a Detroit school for kindergarten through second-grade students. Most of the children knew only football. Street says the goal that day was to introduce every kid in the school to baseball.
“We’re about bringing baseball into the lives of more of our kids and we don’t see ourselves in competition with anyone,” said Street, whose program is offering a competitive summer league this year through a partnership with the Detroit Defenders youth sports organization. “I played PAL baseball and basketball coming up and will always consider myself to be a PAL guy through and through. We look for every opportunity to partner with PAL, but we also have partnered with some other great people and organizations citywide, in Southfield, Downriver, Macomb County and even Windsor. …
“Just like a baseball player gets better with more reps, we want to make baseball a normal part of our kids’ culture so that they can receive everything the game has to offer. Baseball gives you tools that help you in other aspects of your life. When kids come up playing a game where seven out of 10 times you fail, what they’re really learning is that failure is simply a part of the road to success.”
Published at Sat, 13 Jul 2019 12:19:51 +0000