stand here and ask me if I look forward to coming back to good old Brooklyn.
Well, I'll tell you, there are gangs in my neighborhood who will shoot an old
lady in broad daylight just to see if she's gonna bleed. You tell all the
readers that jitterbuggin' is coming back. Jitterbuggin' is the rage, man! And
I don't mean dancing."
steps back, laughing to tears, and does a pantomime of someone pulling guns out
of every part of his clothing and shooting everything in sight.
around here," croaks Williams, laughing so hard one gets the feeling he is
covering a lot of pain. "Man, they all think they're Jesse James. Boom,
boom, boom!" He raises his hands and swaggers like a drunken gunslinger
pouring lead into the local saloon. "Boom, boom, boom!" He grows weak
from the laughter and has to sit down.
This is Flatbush,
Brooklyn, at a well-maintained park on the corner of Foster and Nostrand
avenues. The area is shaded by broad-leafed trees and in a lot of ways it is
not an unpleasant place to be on a hot afternoon. This, as everyone is quick to
point out, is one of the nicer parts of town. None of the young men in the
group—which includes Danny Odums, Williams' running mate at Austin Peay, and
five or six high school stars hopefully en route to college—live in the
They have all
been collected from their disparate corners of Brooklyn by the mysterious
Rodney Parker. Anyone wanting to locate the black ghetto ballplayers,
particularly the more transitory, slippery ones like Williams, should first
And who, it was
asked, is this Rodney Parker? He is a 36-year-old black, self-educated,
self-employed ticket agent who spends the rest of his time scouting young
playground stars. It was Parker who got Williams straightened out and selected
Austin Peay as the school for him. Why does he do this? A lot of reasons and no
reasons. Nobody knows.
On the phone he
had been friendly and blunt. "How many players do you want? Fifteen?
Twenty? You want Fly, is that it? O.K. Tomorrow at noon at Foster Park. They'll
And here they are
now at Parker's command. Anthony Harris, a 6'8", 220-pound teen-ager under
Parker's guidance, explains what he knows about the man. "See, if you're a
college coach and you want a black kid from the city, you got to go through
Rodney. It's just that he helps all of us—particularly the ones that are in
trouble—and we listen to him. He gets us into prep schools to fix up our
grades, he tells us when street games are happening, he buys us soda and he
never asks for nothing. I used to think, 'What's in it for him?' And when I'd
ask him he'd just smile and say, 'Be cool. Be cool.' We call him the Mystery
Parker is alternately vague and provocative. "I like the ink is all,"
he says. And later, "I'm a story all in myself."
role with the boys amounts to that of surrogate father. "Deprived kids are
always eager underneath. All they need is direction. I just push them into
shape," he says.