Upper Providence Little League, the team that became Pennsylvania State Champions in July, claimed three victories in last week’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, winning a third game 6-1 on Thursday against legendary Toms River East LL to advance to the LL World Series in Williamsport.
All of the Upper Providence games were played in Bristol, Conn. in a tournament consisting of four teams from the Mid-Atlantic region.
One dynamic 12-year-old player in particular, has distinguished himself on the biggest stage in youth sports.
Jalen Bowman is a multi-talented two-sport phenom from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania who pitched a complete game gem in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament title game and also had an RBI and scored a run to power Upper Providence Little League to one of the biggest wins in League history.
The team has a crop of talented players that have worked together for nearly five years to get to the point where they were better than the 300 chartered little leagues in the state of Pennsylvania.
In addition to hitting 24 home runs from districts through states, Upper Providence scored 54 runs in four consecutive state tournament elimination games.
Bowman is the team’s glue guy and he also happens to be the only Black player.
The racial composition of youth baseball players across America shouldn’t still be an issue, but the lack of melanin on the basepaths is a recurring theme for Black players, particularly at the tournament and travel team levels.
Therefore, when a Black player excels on a national baseball stage as Bowman’s doing, it inevitably inspires other people of color to raise an eyebrow, maybe even take an interest in baseball.
“I’ve gone to many baseball games over the years and have seen very few of us (Black people), so to see my son on a stage like the Little League World series is inspirational,” Jalen’s Dad, Martin Bowman, told the Shadow League on Wednesday.
“And I hope there are Black kids out there looking at him and dreaming about what they can do.”
Seeing a Black pitcher toting the rubber at any level is a true “hold up check this out” moment.
“At our entire state tournament I only saw two or three Black kids,” Martin says, recalling a sobering realization about his son’s baseball experience.
“And I was surprised by that..that the numbers were so low.”
Upper Providence Little League begins its quest for a Little League World Series title on Friday against Oregon at Volunteer Stadium.
Jalen will take center stage again, pitching, playing shortstop or just competing at the plate.
Martin says the coaches keep that information close to the cuff until the lineup cards are exhanged.
So how did Jalen end up as the star player of a team in Pennsylvania in an area where baseball participation is almost exclusively white?
Martin says Jalen’s just a natural athlete whose parents got him involved in the sport to stay busy and he just stuck with it. From throwing balls in the yard with his Dad to personal instruction and coaching.
“It kind of grew out of T-ball. His mom and I liked him to have something to do when he was little and we decided to do T-ball because his friends were doing it,” Martin tells the Shadow League.
From T ball, it continued to snowball and Jalen kept going back to Upper Providence Little League to play.
“He had a great rec season at 7u and Jalen was chosen to play in the All-Star game,” Martin gushed.
“Then he was selected to be on the travel team and he continued to move up the age brackets.”
Jalen’s Dad says his pitching prowess has improved each season since he first started hurling at 8-years-old.
“Around 8u… he was pitching pretty well back then, but it wasn’t really pitching it was throwing and staying around the plate.
At the time I was more critical and didn’t think he was very good,” Martin admits. “But looking back I see his mechanics were good.”
This season has been a revelation for Jalen. His Dad says he’s showing great consistency, and is developing different pitches.
“He throws a curve ball, fastball and change up and he’s working on a cutter that he’s proud of,” Martin said.
“I asked him if they (coaches) will let him use it, and he said “probably.”
Martin credits his son’s friends and coaches with keeping Jalen interested in the game and enjoying his days at practice and the ballpark.
“He’s so good because he practices a lot and he loves his teammates,” said Martin. “Sometimes you think he only plays baseball because of his teammates and the sleepovers, pool parties and comradery they share off the field which translates into huge success on it.”
Martin credits Upper Providence LL pitching coach Joe Schuberth for working with Jalen since he was in elementary school and helping enhance his skills and teaching him the art of pitching.
“Schuberth had a lot of hands on with Jalen over the years so I give much of the credit to him,” Martin says
Martin also credits Team Manager Ben Ludwig and bench coaches Aaron Bunn and Tom Sergio with facilitating an environment that is fun, educational and pushes the kids to excel in a healthy way.
He also mentions local baseball academies Diamond Dreams and Complete Game for helping Jalen polish his talents.
Together, the coaches, baseball facilities, players and family members have all invested in the ultimate goal of making it to The LL World Series since the beginning.
“We had a five year plan,” Martin recalls, “but since 10 years old they really honed in and did what they needed to do to get to this point.”
Jalen’s athletic dopeness didn’t just fall from the sky.
It’s in his genes.
“His uncles on my side were all collegiate athletes,” Jalen’s Dad tells The Shadow League. “I have that sports mindset where I would love for him to continue with sports because I see the benefits and how much it’s benefited my family.”
Jalen isn’t one dimensional in his sports interests and abilities. In addition to being a perennial honor student, Jalen is also a beast in swimming and excels at the Phoenixville YMCA program.
According to Martin, his son qualified for states in the 100 meter freestyle and 100 meter breaststroke.
“It’s been a long summer,” Martin Bowman said, referring to the 45-game schedule his son played in his rec and travel seasons, including the journey to Williamsport in which his team has gone 18-1 up to this point.
When Jalen’s not inspiring his 9-year-old brother Amari to attack the diamond, NFL
Jalen also likes to play flag football.
Right now, however, it’s all about baseball and the Little League World Series which lasts from August 19-29.
Jalen has a chance to continue to add to his growing popularity by being broadcasted on ESPN in front of the world.
He’s already gotten major attention. He may not get the “talk of the sports cycle” kind of love that Mone Davis was getting when she led the Taney Dragons on a miracle run, but its getting there.
A win over Oregon at 1pm on ESPN on Friday might do the trick.
Jalen’s become quite the celebrity. The toast of the town, even. But his Dad says he doesn’t discuss the newfound popularity with his son.
He also doesn’t want to make a big deal about the fact that his son is pioneering a trail for young Black kids in the game — at least for right now.
“When this tournament is all over, I’m definitely going to have that conversation with Jalen about how he has inspired so many Black kids around the country.
Right now I’m trying to keep him focused… but we will have that conversation when he comes home.”
Martin says the residents of “our town of Phoenixville have been most supportive. They have made this team’s achievement a victory for the area.”
“The town is loving it – just in my neighborhood we get stopped often and that’s neat and Jalen is cool with it.”
Jalen Mania has spread to the local bars and establishments who are having watch parties when Upper Providence Little League plays.
Jalen’s Dad says “Collegeville Bakery has a big sign out front and they keep track of the team’s wins and announce it. They also had a watch party scheduled at the local P.J. Whelihan’s. I can’t wait for him to come home and see all the stories and support.”
If those “adult” things — things like making an impact on society and racial progress through sports at the age of 12 — don’t resonate with Jalen yet, then hitting bombs like his favorite player Fernando Tatis Jr. will have to do.
For a kid that didn’t even watch baseball a lot before this season, Bowman is now ten toes in on this magical baseball journey with Upper Providence Little League.
As MLB ramps up its efforts to diversify the game and make it accessible to kids from all areas, more Black kids are participating and it’s producing gems like Jalen who are changing the culture one pitch at a time and doing it on the grandest stage in youth sports.