Marquis “Bo” Porter remembers the exact instant he decided he could be one of the tiny fraction of high school baseball players who had a chance of getting to "the show".
A participant in Project Pride, an athletic program for Newark youth, Porter played in a game against a team in Puerto Rico. That game was arranged by Joseph DiVincenzo, who ran the program a quarter-century ago.
“I was on the plane coming back from Puerto Rico, and [DiVincenzo] read off my stats,” said Porter, 40, who grew up in the South Ward. “It was at that moment I believed I could play professional baseball.”
DiVincenzo went on to become the Essex County Executive. And Porter, as he suspected he would, made it as professional baseball player -- and beyond. In September, he was named manager of the Houston Astros, the first Essex County native in the modern history of the game to be placed in charge of a Major League team.
The two men reunited Thursday at the Leroy Smith Building, where coaches, friends, family and students from Weequahic High -- Porter’s alma mater -- gathered for a ceremony during which Porter was given an honorary “Key to Essex County.”
The son of a preacher, Porter was a three-sport standout at Weequahic, playing on the basketball and football teams as well as the baseball squad. He helped lead Weequahic High to two city baseball championships, said his former coach, Frank Gavin.
Gavin said that for all his skills on the diamond, it was Porter’s character that made him stand out. He recalls being able to leave his team unattended with the young Porter in charge, safe in the knowledge practices would continue smoothly.
“Bo has been a fantastic leader. Bo, I love you, not just as an athlete, but as a human being,” Gavin said.
At the University of Iowa, Porter pulled off the equally impressive feat of starring in two sports, baseball and football, drawing inevitable comparisons with another famously versatile “Bo,” Jackson, a professional multisport athlete. When Porter turned pro, however, he stuck to baseball, eventually playing for the Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers.
Fellow Weequahic alum Sheila Oliver, Speaker of the state Assembly, said Porter’s achievements are a point of pride and an inspiration for city youth.
“Today it’s about the orange and brown, it’s about the Weequahic Indians and it’s about Weequahic pride,” Oliver said.
“You stand as a testament for the young people today.”
Hal Braff, co-president of the Weequahic Alumni Association, said Porter’s life story serves as a powerful example in a city where many youth feel they have few options.
“There are only 30 people in the universe who are Major League Baseball managers....we’re very proud of you, because you’re a person who made it and you’re a symbol to so many kids in this city that they can make it.”
DiVincenzo echoed that thought, stating Porter could help inspire city youth. “I want you to be the best manager, to be in the Hall of Fame. But what’s more important is what happens back home.”
“You may think the cards are stacked against you,” Porter said, addressing the young ball players and students at Thursday’s ceremony, “but one thing I can tell you, one thing I stressed to every owner and GM, is that a lot of people look where I come from and see it as a negative, but with all the obstacles you overcome, I view it as a positive.”
“I am behind this city, I am from this city. This is where my heart is.”
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