Harvard-Westlake's Chase Aldridge is breaking barriers in baseball

Eric Sondheimer
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Harvard-Westlake second baseman Chase Aldridge is straddling two environments as an African American teenager

Chase Aldridge, the leading hitter for Harvard-Westlake's baseball team, is headed to Harvard University. He grew up in Ladera Heights, went to a public elementary school, then enrolled at a private middle school in Palisades.

So began his journey straddling two environments as an African American teenager.

In an application essay to Harvard, he wrote: "My dad would come every year and teach about the Negro Leagues. Activities like this served both the purpose of informing others of the history of various different people, and also a sign of how I fit in the school community.

"My clear sense of belonging encouraged me to take a leadership role among my peers in both the classroom and on the baseball field where I played with many of the same kids from school. After transferring to a new campus, I quickly lost that clear sense of belonging. I was suddenly transported from a world of Civics and Corollas to Panameras and Maseratis.

"I remember on the first day of school, I was alone on the field during lunch when a few eighth-graders asked me if I knew how to do the new dance craze. Although I knew the moves, I shyly said 'no.' Later, I had the eerie sense that I was only asked this question because of my race.

"As my years at the school went on, I started to feel more self-conscious. I began increasingly to notice differences between my classmates and me. I knew E-40, they knew the Beatles; I played at the Boys & Girls Club, they played at country clubs; I liked sweet potato pie, they liked pumpkin pie."

Aldridge adapted and thrived. He was determined to take advantage of his academic prowess and use his love of baseball to widen his opportunities. He played baseball at Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, then enrolled at Harvard-Westlake and immersed himself in academics and sports.

"My experiences at these schools have led me to become a citizen in a world of increasing inclusivity and diversity," Aldridge wrote. "My experiences have given me the confidence that I can and will succeed anywhere because of my familiarity with a wide range of people and situations. With this, I know that I can help bridge the gap between two cultures, relating to a variety of people."

Aldridge calls himself "a moderate in a polarized world." He listens, he learns and he makes judgments using his knowledge, insights and experiences.

This season is his first as a full-time starter at second base, and what a season he's having. He leads the team in batting with a .489 average, has walked 20 times and has just one error. The lesson he learned over four years of high school was patience.

"In this age of transfers, it's easy to go to another school," he said. "I'm happy and playing and it was worth the time. It's an important lesson to learn. You can't always leave if it's not going the best for you. Waiting your time and sticking with it through the end is going to be helpful."

As for dealing with race in society, Aldridge said, "Sports helps you break down some of those barriers that come with race and socioeconomic class."

As an African American playing baseball, he understands he's in the minority. On opening day rosters in the major leagues, there were 68 African Americans out of 868 players, according to a USA Today survey.

"It's important that kids in less advantage areas get the chance to play," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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