Baseball fans across the nation cain’t wait for the first pitch tonight at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Usually, there is some ceremony to get the ball rolling prior to the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the World Series.
You’ve seen the San Francisco Giants trot out the likes of Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda over their championship post-seasons at AT&T Park. Even though the Royals won it all in ’15, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head which of Kansas City’s dignitaries served as team ambassadors at Ewing Kauffman Stadium in late October.
Cleveland is a far different place from San Francisco in terms of pep around the ol’ ballyard. And, depending on how you look at it, Cleveland is much like Kansas City. Each has a rich baseball history. But, both are very segregated cities.
Two recent examples of Cleveland’s progressiveness are exemplified by former boxing impresario Don King’s open support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Cleveland Cavalier’s owner Dan Gilbert hosting the Republican National Convention last July at his Quicken Loans Arena — right around the corner from Progressive Field.
If you’re counting on FOX Sports to air scenes of protest in or around the stadium, you might as well keep your money in your pocket. Because it ain’t happenin’.
Nevertheless, I like Cleveland in 7.
As I mentioned above, Cleveland is a segregated city. (Promotional consideration: You can find out why in the July issue of Tailor-Made Media MARQUEE.) Chicago is, too. However, this piece isn’t about how segregated many American cities are. We already know that. What you don’t know is why I’m ridin’ with Cleveland in Major League Baseball’s 112th Fall Classic.
My GrandDad used to tell me all kinds of stories about his journey from Rickey, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan during the Great Migration. Everything from the Scottsboro Boys trial to the destruction of Hastings Street in Detroit’s Old Black Bottom, near what is now Comerica Park and Ford Field in Downtown Detroit.
Grand Dad knew my love for baseball. Because he shared it. While I learned about Jackie Robinson, Grand Dad saw Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige (and, many others) while they were in the Negro Leagues. And, was a very proud man.
Grand Dad worked Downtown as a attendant in one of the country’s largest parking structures. Every day, Grand Dad would show up for work in his crisp, white uniform and matching chauffeur’s hat. Except for when Cleveland was in town to play the Tigers.
As my Grand Dad would tell it, “Nobody gave a damn about the Tigers in OUR community. THAT’s you all. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the Tigers didn’t have any Black ballplayers. That was later. And, Jackie played with the Dodgers. So, they weren’t coming to Detroit.
But, Cleveland had Satchel Paige and Larry Doby. Everybody knew Tiger Stadium would be sold out because most of the Black folks in Detroit were from the South and had seen these men play in the Negro Leagues. In those days, folks had a few dollars to spend and if you wanted take your lady to a ballgame, that’s when you took her. To the Cleveland game.
We didn’t need box seats, either. We’d get bleacher seats because we knew, if Satch wasn’t pitching, Larry Doby was going to be in the outfield. Whether Detroit or Tiger Stadium seemed segregated or not, we sat where we sat because that’s where we wanted to sit.
We weren’t asking ANYBODY for a favor. Just KNOW that I wasn’t going to work THAT day. Or, NO day when Cleveland was in town.”
In 1997, I had a chance to interview Mr. Doby just before Major League Baseball’s 50th anniversary to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s debut with Dodger. I mentioned to him that I was from Detroit. Mr. Doby said, “Oh, yeah? You know, I was with the Tigers in the Spring of ’59…” I was shocked. Because I had never known it. And, it wasn’t like the Tigers were tellin’ it.
That’s when I shared with Mr. Doby the story that my Grand Dad told me about going to Tiger Stadium to see Cleveland in the ‘40s and ‘50s. If you ever had a chance to meet or talk to Mr. Doby, he had a quiet resolution to him. But, I’ll never forget — as LONG as I’m Black — the pause in that moment where I’m sharing one of my Grand Dad’s most cherished memories in the City of Detroit over the phone with Mr. Doby.
I swear, by God, what I heard in Mr. Doby’s pregnant pause had a lot to do with his personal pride in what he was able to accomplish as a Major Leaguer. It meant something to the man that he had touched my family that deeply.
I think Mr. Doby enjoyed our 40-minute call more that I’ll ever know. Rest assured, America, that I’ll be watching this World Series with that very thought in mind.
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