To keep him out of trouble when he was a kid, Lorenzo Petersen’s parents enrolled him in a baseball program in his hometown of Vallejo. Just like that, Petersen fell in love with the sport, which guided his trajectory in the years that followed. Then, in 2017, during his senior year of high school, he hit a roadblock.
Petersen, a pitcher, was unsure where to go to college because he hadn’t received any scholarships. He also didn’t feel it was time to say goodbye to home. “I was not ready to leave my parents,” he said. “I wanted to develop myself as a person and a man.”
In sports in particular, “I feel like I was an underdeveloped baseball player and did not want to ride the bench at a four-year college.”
So Petersen decided to attend Contra Costa College. He knew the baseball coach there, because his godfather was the school’s athletic director, and the experience at CCC gave Petersen an opportunity to grow both on and off the field.
Junior college was in many ways a grind, he recalled. To save money because gas was expensive, he sometimes wouldn’t go home and instead went to his grandmother’s house in Richmond, where he slept on an air mattress. Petersen spent his years at CCC building himself psychologically, learning how to not only manage his time but how to live his life.
Several years later, when he was considering where to transfer, Petersen found himself in a similar position as in high school, unsure where to go next. He applied to Sacramento State University and Prairie View A&M University, a Historically Black College in Texas, but neither school offered him a scholarship. Another HBCU, Clark Atlanta University, finally did, so he packed his bags for Georgia.
By that point, “I wanted to get out of Vallejo and travel,” he said. “I think I made the right decision and would do it again if I had to. I love Atlanta and the culture here.”
The move opened Petersen’s eyes in other ways as well, revealing to him the important role that black colleges play in American life. He said he believes HBCUs are “slept on,” or overlooked, and recommended that more people attend these schools.
“Historically Black Colleges are not really talked about in California,” he said, citing the state’s one HBCU, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in Los Angeles. Peterson added that he wished HBCUs received more exposure outside of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black History Month.
Attending Clark Atlanta University has made Petersen more comfortable being so far away from home, he said, because he finds himself with people who “look like him” and share the same culture. “The little things are more enjoyable, and Black people know how to get lit there.”
Then, just as his life started to look like it was headed in the right direction, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, changing Petersen’s trajectory. In the middle of the 2020 spring semester, he flew back home and once again had to reinvent himself. The experience was jarring. “It’s hell,” he said. “I am not comfortable taking online courses because I get easily distracted and can’t focus.”
Covid-19 had cut short his first university baseball season, in which he only played 14 games. Once he was home, he couldn’t train on the diamond because of strict coronavirus restrictions in California. For Peterson, like for millions of college students, the year was difficult and disorienting. Even more challenges loomed ahead.
In early 2021, he returned to campus in Atlanta, but had to continue taking online courses from his dorm and his cousin’s house, where he sometimes stayed. Baseball resumed, but under strict conditions: if one person on the team got Covid-19, the whole team would have to quarantine for two weeks.
Before the season had even started, Petersen learned that his god grandmother had passed away. Then, during the season, he found out that his uncle had passed away, both unrelated to Covid-19. The experience took a toll on Petersen, who was unable to attend the funerals in person and watched them on a Zoom call.
Adding to his sense of hardship, the 2021 baseball season was cut short again, reduced to just five games. One of Petersen’s teammates had contracted the virus, which forced the whole team to quarantine. Petersen had to move out of his dorm within 24 hours, so he went to his cousin’s where he quarantined and continued his schooling.
In the absence of baseball, Petersen said he has been left not knowing quite where to turn. “The unknowing hurts because I have no idea what is going to happen next, and have to play it day by day,” he said.
On the upside, he was selected to participate in the inaugural HBCU All-Star Game that will be held at Hoover Met Stadium in Alabama on June 7-8. “It’s the best thing that could have happened after all the work I have put in and the losses I have gone through,” he said.
Through it all, Petersen said he is grateful for his parents who continue to inspire him. “They work hard and I try to be like them,” he said. He also credited his first baseball coach, Arthur Plump, for believing in him and teaching him the fundamentals of the game.
After the All-Star Game, Petersen said he plans to head to Florida to play summer baseball, eager for the opportunity to continue his athletic journey. In the meantime, he is focusing on getting a bachelor’s degree in history and, he hopes later, a master’s degree in education and leadership development.
“God put me on Earth for a reason and it is on me to find why,” he said. “Staying on the path will lead me to success in someone’s eye.”