DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Before each game, Clarence Carter III glances across the diamond as the opposing team warms up. He peeks in the dugout, scans the outfield and takes inventory around the infield during batting practice, counting how many African-Americans he can spot on the other team.
This is not an unusual drill for African-Americans playing in the major leagues, where their numbers have dwindled in recent decades, or in the similarly exclusive world of youth travel baseball.
But what makes this exercise striking is that Carter, a junior infielder at Bethune-Cookman University, plays for — and often against — one of America’s historically black colleges.
“It did catch me by surprise; I’m not going to lie,” said Carter, who transferred to Bethune-Cookman from a community college in Fullerton, Calif. “I would have thought coming to an H.B.C.U. there would be more black people, but things aren’t always what you expect.”
While baseball’s struggles to attract African-American talent and fans are well documented, the depth of the issue comes into sharper relief for teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a group of historically black colleges and universities stretching from Maryland to Florida. At each of the nine MEAC colleges that compete in baseball, the baseball teams often feature more white and Latino players than African-Americans.
Consider the standard-bearer for the conference, Bethune-Cookman, which has won 19 MEAC championships and plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the same field where Robinson first suited up for a game after signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. At times this season, the Wildcats have not started a single African-American player.