Davantae Jackson died over Labor Day weekend at age 15, young enough for the memory of his boyhood innocence to be within easy reach for mourners. At 6, he started playing Little League. At 12, he visited Sox Park for a special training session and got to wear a Major League Baseball uniform.
“I’mma be here one day,” he told his coach, Frank Brim, at the ballpark. “This is awesome. I love this.”
Instead, the boy known as “Lefty” for his left-hand throws in his Garfield Park Little League days was called outside and shot in the leg and back in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. That happened Sunday, two days before he would have started his freshman year of high school. He died on the sidewalk, where his mother found him after she heard gunshots, reports Alice Yin in the Tribune.
It was a long way from that day at the ballpark. “I saw the innocence, I see the little boy, and I remember that forever,” Brim said at a memorial for the teen on Monday. “For his life to end like this ... it’s been rough for me.”
Davantae was among the youngest victims of gun violence in Chicago over the Labor Day weekend, which saw 44 people shot, nine of them fatally. That’s a sharp rise from the same weekend last year. At this writing, no one has been arrested in Davantae’s killing.
Brim says Davantae had fallen in with the wrong crowd the last couple years. He had once been the first to show up for practice and the last to leave. He was a helpful kid who would joke around and encourage other players. But now he wasn’t playing baseball anymore.
“He drifted ... and started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” Brim said. “I’m not going to deny that. But at the same time, the sum of his life is that he was an awesome kid.”
Maybe pro baseball wasn’t in the cards for Davantae. Exceptional talent or smarts shouldn’t be the only way forward for any young person. In a more supportive environment, rather than a disadvantaged neighborhood high on crime and low on social, economic and educational opportunity, he might have had room for youthful error. Maybe he would have enjoyed high school and found new friends and interests. Maybe he would have grown up and gotten a job, ridden the CTA, shared White Sox season tickets and coached Little League, paying it forward to the next generation of boys who need to be guided as they nurture, then outgrow, their big-league dreams.
The loss of Davantae is a tragedy for his family and his city. Burying the future Mr. Jackson or Coach Jackson adds to another deficit haunting Chicago, that of the men it needs these promising, dedicated little boys to become.