WEST CHESTERFIELD — Marco Johnson said he was only able to save so many at-risk youths from selling drugs and joining gangs during his tenure as a Chicago police officer.
Now he's hoping baseball helps him keep others from going down the wrong path.
The Chicago State University alum retired in January after 29 years as a Chicago cop.
"Baseball is what kept me and my brother off the streets when I was growing up in public housing on State Street," said Johnson, 52. "Baseball is what sent me to college on a scholarship and saved my mother thousands of dollars."
Johnson played at Roberto Clemente High School before he joined the Army and played center field for the Army's baseball team. It was his baseball performance in the Army that snagged him a college scholarship at CSU.
"I did OK when I was in high school but I got better once I played for the Army," he said. "I doubt if you find me in any Hall of Fames though."
As a way of introducing local youths to baseball, Stomping Out Drugs & Gangs, an anti-violence organization Johnson founded in 2000, is sponsoring a clinic for 200 elementary school children from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at Tuley Park, 501 E. 90th Place, in the West Chesterfield neighborhood.
"Baseball is something that can calm kids down. Once they learn the ABCs about baseball they become excited and interested in learning more about the game," said Johnson, who serves as executive director of Stomping Out Drugs & Gangs. "And as long as their minds are on baseball, they forget about all the other stuff presented to them out here on the streets."
The name for the organization derived from Johnson's fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, which he said is known for stomping "when we hold step shows."
Last week Johnson and 12 children from Englewood returned from the Badges for Baseball program, which is a one-week clinic in Baltimore sponsored by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which was founded by Ripken's Hall of Famer son, Cal Ripken Jr.
"The Badges for Baseball program has a life skills component that will be taught by us," Johnson said. "Also helping us Saturday will be volunteers from the U.S. Marshals office, Chicago police officers including the canine and (horse) mounted units, and players from Harlan High School and Chicago State University.
"We do more than just teach kids baseball. We mentor and tutor them also."
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said he plans to attend the Saturday event, not because Tuley Park is in his ward, but because it is important to show support for youth programs.
"I support anything that can help keep our youth safe and show them positive and constructive things to do with their time besides hanging out on the corner," Sawyer said. "I wish more people would get involved in helping our youth. Lord knows they need it."
Fellow Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who is a volunteer baseball coach for Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep and the Roseland Little League, welcomes the opportunity to work with Johnson and his organization one day.
"Sports is a mechanism that should be used more often to engage our youth in a positive matter," Beale said. "The Roseland Little League partners all the time with organizations for events and having one more 'new' player on the field is all the better."