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Crawford, Hudson dedicate time talking to youth

Crawford, Hudson dedicate time talking to youth

Crawford, Hudson dedicate time talking to youth
BOSTON -- Carl Crawford was receiving treatment on his left hamstring for the time being, so another Red Sox outfielder, Mike Cameron, sidled over, leaning against the roof of the Red Sox dugout at Fenway Park from the top step.

But this wasn't a one-man effort. In the front row was Orlando Hudson, facing a seated group of around four-dozen youths, most of them in their teens and all of them a part of the Red Sox Foundation's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program.

Hudson, of course, is the second baseman for the Padres. So why on a Tuesday afternoon -- 3,000 or so miles away from PETCO Park -- was he taking time out for New Englanders?

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It's no different from what Hudson, a 10-year veteran, has been doing for three years now.

"The kids see such a great athlete that pretty much came from the same background they did," Hudson said. "They can sit there and say, 'You know what? He made it. He's doing it. ... I can do the same thing.'"

In 2009, Hudson started the Around the Mound Tour as a mentoring program -- which he undertakes home or away -- with the primary goal of heightening African-American involvement in baseball. There are upcoming stops in Philadelphia and New York, and he's already hit Atlanta and San Diego.

Sitting on the dugout after his arrival, Crawford imparted his own motivation -- his mere presence in the big leagues is a testament to what the RBI program can do, because he's an alumnus. Cameron, the eldest of the three players, might've commanded the most attention, though. Even Crawford and Hudson said they still turn to the 38-year-old for guidance.

For the kids, the trio amounted to a plethora of wisdom.

For the players, the gathering of African-American players represented something rare.

"It hurts, it really does," Hudson said of the number of African-Americans who don't pursue baseball. "To see the decline in the sport, man, for so much, [for what] our ancestors have done in this game and put up so many great numbers and done so many things in this game that stood for so much. We went through a lot for us to play this game."

"It's important. You just want to let them know what's out there for them," Crawford said. "Sometimes they get caught up in what they think they're supposed to do and are afraid to step out of the box."

On Opening Day this year, the percentage of African-American players in the Majors was 8.5 percent, down from 10 percent in 2010, according to a report done by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The potential causes for the drop have been chronicled, and Hudson touched on them all on Tuesday: the ability to reach the top level of competition quicker in other sports, hip-hop's stronger ties to sports like basketball and football and a lack of superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. -- Hudson's "Michael Jordan of baseball."

"You see [NFL linebacker] Ray Lewis in the middle of the field and he gets pumped up; they got hip-hop going," said Hudson, who, like Cameron, oozes charisma with whomever he's talking to. "You come to a baseball game, you're going to hear Willie Nelson. I don't mind it, because I like all music. But most urban kids these days, they don't know about Willie. They don't know that he was one of the greatest that ever lived."

Another guest stopped by with the kids, but this one, the youngest of the crowd, didn't say anything. Crawford's son, Justin, sat on the dugout with his dad, and afterward in the clubhouse, he sat on his father's lap.

A dead ringer for his dad, Justin wore a full Red Sox jersey, complete with the No. 13 that's in his bloodline. He carried a bat around, sized for an elementary school student, and he's already playing in a slow-pitch league.

Justin is one young athlete who doesn't need any prodding when it comes to following his father's footsteps.

"What do you think? Shoot," Carl said laughing. "He's got a little quickness to him. The thing about him, I don't have to force him to do anything. He just wants to do everything."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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