'All-Star Among Us' saving troubled kids with baseball

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 13, 2010 

Former Kentucky State first baseman Kenny Fullman lost his father, a volunteer youth sports coach, to gang violence.

Former Kentucky State University first baseman Kenny Fullman will be on the field Tuesday night in Anaheim where the 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played.

He's not there to hit off Ubaldo Jimenez nor to rob Joey Votto of a base hit. Fullman won't even play in the game.

Yet no one at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim will have a more meaningful story.

For Fullman, his night walking among baseball's best is part of a journey that began exactly 28 years, one month and one day ago.

On the morning of June 12, 1982, Fullman spent some time in his Chicago backyard playing with his father, Gerald Fullman Sr.

In the carefree moment, a 12-year-old boy would have never dreamed it was the final time he would see his Dad.

Gerald Fullman Sr. made his living as a salesman. His passion, however, was working with kids from the often tough streets of Chicago's South Side as a youth sports coach.

That night, the elder Fullman "broke up a fight between two groups of kids at a ball game," Kenny Fullman said. "It was a gang deal. One group got upset. They left, and then they came back with a gun. They shot him."

Even now, Fullman, 40, still finds it jarring how suddenly his father was wrested from his life.

"Everything, it just changed so fast," he said.

From a little boy's sense of loss emerged a man with a life plan: To try to use baseball to "save" young males from growing up in circumstances similar to that of those who murdered his Dad.

Which is why, before Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Co. take the field in Anaheim Tuesday night, Kenny Fullman will.

Representing the Chicago White Sox, he will be among 30 "All-Stars Among Us" — one representing each major-league team — honored by MLB and People magazine for the work they do in their respective communities.

Fullman will be recognized for founding Amateur City Elite, a program designed both to teach baseball to and to mentor young people in the inner-city to prepare them for college.

With the help of funding provided by the White Sox charitable arm, Fullman's program has grown from one team in 2007 to now feature five teams comprised of 96 total teens between the ages of 13 and 18.

It would have been easy, of course, for Fullman to end up on the wrong track himself after his father's death. He says his mom, Donita, would not let that happen.

When it came time for him to pick a college, Fullman says his family knew people in Chicago who were Kentucky State graduates.

"I wanted to get out of Chicago, but my Mom didn't want me to go too far," he said. "Kentucky State seemed to answer both" desires.

In Frankfort, Fullman joined a fraternity (Omega Psi Phi), earned a Business Administration degree (1993) and played baseball.

"He was intense," says Ron Braden, who coach Fullman at KSU. "He could hit the ball, a line-drive hitter. He was always a guy who seemed to have a plan in mind and took care of his business."

Fullman — whose real job is as a Chicago police officer and who also works part-time as a high school baseball coach — takes pleasure in helping the game of baseball regain a footing in the inner-city.

The seeming lack of popularity for the sport in such areas in recent years has been a much-discussed phenomenon.

"I've had 15 kids come through the City Elite program and play college baseball," Fullman said. "I've had four kids drafted" in the major-league baseball amateur draft.

Tuesday night in Anaheim, a group of Hollywood's biggest stars are slated to honor some of the 30 "All-Stars Among Us" honorees in a pre-game video tribute.

Actress Charlize Theron will honor Fullman.

A baseball guy through and through, Fullman is more stoked to go on the field with the game's greatest players.

"I've never even been to an All-Star Game," he said. "Getting to go on the field is ridiculous."

Amidst all the hoopla in Cali, Fullman says his mind will never stray far from the man who is the reason he will be there in the first place.

"My Dad was a catcher in baseball. I loved to go out in the backyard and throw to him," Fullman said. "I missed that so much after he was gone.

"With my program, I am trying to save kids before they shoot someone. Help kids so they won't be on the streets to shoot anyone else's Dad."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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