Kenny Fullman owes a lot to baseball. Baseball may owe even more to Kenny Fullman.
The game that helped Fullman grow closer to his father – even after his father was shot and killed breaking up a gang fight on the south side of Chicago – is now turning around and giving him a hand.
For his service as an amateur baseball coach of Chicago’s inner-city youth, Fullman, a former first baseman and team captain at Kentucky State, will be honored as an “All-Star Among Us” alongside 29 other individuals in a pre-game ceremony tonight before the 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim.
“Baseball has been very a big part of life,” Fullman said in a phone interview Monday while waiting for yesterday’s Home Run Derby.
“Through baseball I got my education. It’s one of the tools my dad used to strengthen our relationship. I started playing at the age of five, through high school and college.”
As the oldest sibling in his family, Fullman was forced to mature beyond his years at the age of 12, after the untimely death of his father, Gerald Fullman, Sr. He volunteered to coach his brother’s T-ball team at 14 while turning himself into a college-level prospect at the same time.
“I taught myself to be well-organized,” he said. “I had to be a leader at a very young age.”
As a power-hitting infielder for the Thorobreds in the early ‘90s, Fullman displayed that same maturity, earning the respect of his peers and coaches who appointed him a team captain.
“He was a good player,” said Ron Braden, former KSU baseball coach and current sports information director, who recruited Fullman to K-State after seeing him play in a tournament at Morehead.
“He was disciplined, reliable, sort of like a coach on the field.”
Fullman became a coach with a badge after graduating from KSU in 1993, returning to his native Chicago to be a police officer and turn kids away from the lifestyle of drugs and violence that took his father’s life.
As a 15-year veteran of the force today, Fullman works as a school liason officer for about 40 schools in the 51st and Wentworth District.
“I want to try to save kids before they shoot someone else,” he said. “I figure if I work with them now, they are less likely to be on the streets.”
Of course, he still saves time for baseball.
Fullman, 40, serves as the head baseball coach at the Harlan Academy and is also the program director of Amateur City Elite, an inner city baseball program designed to prepare young people for college.
Baseball’s popularity among urban youth has been in decline for several decades – a trend most noticeable in the lack of African American players at the game’s highest level. New initiatives backed by Major League Baseball and staffed with passionate mentors like Fullman hope to change that trend.
Fullman said there are signs. His Amateur City Elite program boasts five teams of 96 kids representing all backgrounds and nationalities.
“Hopefully kids can use it as stepping stone to college,” Fullman said.
“Baseball is a very disciplined game. It teaches you the ups and downs of life. It teaches resilience and toughness. I learned a lot about life and how to stay strong playing the game.”
At the All-Star festivities in Anaheim, Fullman said he’s already met MLB commissioner Bud Selig and will get a chance to chat with this year’s crop of All-Stars later.
“I’m looking forward to talking to the players, getting more ideas from all the projects and services they’re doing, trying to make my program a lot better,” he said.
Any knowledge Fullman gleans he hopes to one day bring back with him to Kentucky, a place he said he’s come to think of as home.
“A lot of my best friends are still down there. When I retire from the police force I’d like to move to the area and maybe coach at Kentucky State. I’d love to come back.”
An All-Star’s welcome will be waiting for him.