Saturday, Aug. 11—I arrived at The Dutch around 12:30 p.m. for the annual picnic with the players and was pleased to see the weather cooperate. Hot dogs, baked beans and pasta salad may not be typical breakfast fare (on my schedule I eat breakfast while the civilized world has lunch) but it sure was tasty!
I invited Charles Epperson and later Geoff Rowan to join a table that included Bob, Paul and me and we had a nice chat. Charles hopes to take computer science courses to build on his chemistry degree in designing complex molecules and compounds. I mentioned that I had really enjoyed high school chemistry but never made it to anything that complex. Geoff still has not been cleared to play but is able to catch the pitchers in the bullpen.
Team card sets (individual cards and uncut sheets) had arrived in time for the picnic, so, after eating, I joined other fans in making the rounds of players to get their signatures, starting with Charles and Geoff. As usual I did not get everybody before it was time for them to move on to the next part of their day (for these men baseball is a job as well as a game), but I caught up with more than half, making sure to remember my manners, be polite and compliment several on recent good game efforts. I will catch up with the rest over the next several games.
Pictures with the team followed the picnic for those season ticket holders, including myself, who chose that option as part of our package. Clad in my white jersey, I joined the other folks headed toward Bill Richmond’s impromptu photo studio in left-center. For some reason many of the players echoed “Prospector!” after Bill called me (I did not hear any such response for anybody else), sounding genuinely happy to have me join them for a photo. I was the one who felt privileged, of course. Bill told me that, except for my red cap, I looked just like a member of the team, ready to play. Charles shook my hand as the players headed for the clubhouse after the photo session.
Bob, Paul, Hal, Grant and I chatted for while in the parking lot before heading off to assorted in-between activities, mine being slipping into the press box to do some work on my laptop. I looked up frequently to watch the Renegades and the Spinners go through their pre-game drills, which included fielding practice (bunts, hits to the mound, covering first) for the pitchers under the eye of pitching coach Kyle Snyder—not the sort of thing I initially associate with the work of a pitching coach but certainly something the pitchers need to be able to handle.
Before game time I left the press box for the familiar environs of Section 107 to watch a 13-inning nail biter between the Renegades and Lowell, which the Massachusetts visitors won 6-5. Scoring including a solo home run by a first-round draft pick on each team—a 397-foot rip by Richie Shaffer in the Renegades’ seventh, and the game winner by Lowell’s Deven Marrero in the 13th. The loss, combined with a Brooklyn victory, left the Gades two games ahead of the Cyclones in the McNamara. Please click here to read the game story on the Gades’ Web site.
Tonight marked the Renegades’ annual tribute to the Negro Leagues, where some amazingly talented African-Americans, more than 4,000 in all, played top-quality baseball in relative obscurity for decades until Jackie Robinson broke the modern major-league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Tonight’s observance was low key, with ushers and other staffers wearing the home cream and maroon jerseys of the Newark, NJ, Eagles and the gray and black road jerseys of the Homestead, PA, Grays. In years past the uniforms of the Eagles and Grays were worn by the Renegades and their visitors. I had hoped (in vain, unfortunately) that the tribute might rival the education and poignancy of the 2009 version, which focused on Larry Doby (formerly of the Eagles), who broke the color barrier in the American League in July 1947, three months after Robinson did so in the National League, and had Pedro Sierra and Robert Scott, veterans of the Negro Leagues, throw out first pitches.
According to information I compiled in my personal memoir about the Aug. 28, 2008, game between the Renegades/Eagles and Spinners/Grays (primarily from James A. Riley, director of research for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum), blacks and whites played together during the first years of the game, but segregation had become a fact of life by the dawn of the 20th century. Beginning with the Cuban Giants in 1885, black professional teams played as independent clubs until the first black league was founded in 1920. Despite some financial difficulties, the Negro Leagues eventually thrived, complete with World Series and All-Star Games. The leagues declined and eventually folded after the reintegration of baseball in 1947—the year I was born.
I did not develop an interest in baseball until 1955, when black major-league players, while not as numerous as they are today, were part of the baseball landscape and, to the best of my recollections, I thought little of it, despite growing up in a primarily white landscape in Tarrytown during a time when racial segregation and discrimination still flourished, especially in the South. Elston Howard was a respected member of the New York Yankees in those years, and I remember being taken aback when a hotel in the South refused to let him stay there during a Yankee trip because he was black. I also remember being very proud of the Yankees when the rest of the team refused to stay in that hotel, opting instead for a place where every member of the team was welcome. And I remember hearing announcements at Yankee Stadium promoting occasional games between the Kansas City Monarchs and other Negro league teams, which left me wondering why there were separate black teams when blacks were obviously playing on major-league teams right in front of me. I’m not perfect when it comes to prejudice, but it all made me wonder, now as well as then—how do you exclude an entire population from baseball (or anything else, for that matter) just because of skin color?
Throughout the game that night I thought repeatedly that, had some of the African American players, such as Renegade second baseman Mike Ross and Spinner first baseman Deshaun Brooks, been playing ball several decades ago, the uniforms of the Eagles and Grays might have been their only uniforms, not just the resurrection of a piece of history by their modern integrated teams. And all-white teams would have been deprived of the two runs Mike drove in that night and the two Deshaun drove in the previous night plus one that night.
Before tonight’s game I renewed acquaintances with former Westchester newspaper colleague (and fellow softball player) Rich Kleban, who later was an editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal and now works for the Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce. Rich was at the game with his wife, Robin, their son and twin daughters. We had a nice chat on the concourse.
Joining me tonight in Section 107 were Holy Spirit friends Kate (who also sings in the choir) and her fiancé, Paul. They started out in Row B of Section 107 but were able to join me in the empty Interstate Battery seats. Kate, being from Connecticut, is a big fan of all things Red Sox while Paul is a Yankees fan. After the post-game fireworks we headed for the Lowell bus and waited patiently for Deven Marrero so Kate could get his autograph. I shook his hand and congratulated him on his game-winning home run, adding that I always appreciate a good hit, a good play, no matter who is involved. I then introduced Kate and Paul to the gathering in the corral, where they were happy to join us for a while.
Next home game: Sunday, Aug. 12 vs. Lowell Spinners, first pitch 5:05 p.m.