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The Men of the Negro Leagues: Carl Long Day 2011

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For tonight a reposting of an old article dealing with my friends from the Negro Leagues. These men were heroes, they played ball in the face of prejudice and discrimination and were a part of the Civil Rights movement. They were peers of Jackie Robison, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, and Larry Doby.

This article is from 2011, my friend, Negro League Hall of Famer Carl Long passed away in 2015. I do miss him.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Carl Long Night: L-R  James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten, Dennis “Bose”Biddle and Carl Long  at Historical Grainger Stadium

Friday I had the privilege of being invited to spend a portion of the day a number of former Negro League players, Minor League players and a couple of former Major Leaguers including one veteran of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, Trot Nixon.  In addition to the ballplayers I met Carl’s lovely wife Ella as well city officials from the City of Kinston and regular folks, baseball fans and parents with their children.

Carl and Ella

It was a day to honor one of the few remaining veterans of the Negro Leagues.  Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente.  He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season inKinstonwhich has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez play at Historic Grainger Stadium.  Carl did not have a long baseball career, he injured his shoulder and his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl stole his heart.  In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. Carl was presented with a certificate from the Mayor of Kinston during the

That evening the Kinston Indians hosted Carl Long Appreciation night.  Carl as well as Dennis, James “Spot” King and Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten and a number of local Negro League era players took the field near along the third base line as their names were announced.  A local television station filmed the event and Carl made sure the members of the “Field of Dreams” Little League team each got a copy of his signed baseball card. It was a night of emotion, appreciation and history.

Carl broke barriers wherever he went and credits his father with ensuring that he got his education, a mantra that he repeats to every young person that he meets.  I met Carl earlier in the season and knew that I was in the presence of a pioneer and a great American.  When I am in Kinston there is nothing that I enjoy more that listening to Carl’s stories of life in the Negro Leagues and breaking the baseball’s color barrier in the Deep South.

Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten” 

It is hard to imagine now just how deep the poisonous river of racism ran in 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s America.  Then it was a fact that segregation was not only acceptable but widely practiced in much of this country.  Institutionalized racism was normal and violence against blacks and whites that befriended them was commonplace.  We like to think that we have overcome racism in this country but unfortunately there is a segment of the population that still practices and promotes this evil.  Even this week there was a Ku Klux Klan attack on the home of a black pastor in the South.  His offense….supporting a white candidate for county sheriff.  While we have overcome much there is still much work to be done.  I think this is why I believe it is so important to remember the men and women of the Negro Leagues.

One of the men at today’s events was Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954.  He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.  When he couldn’t play in the Majors he went to college and became a Social Worker.  Dennis said to me “you know that “take out” sign at restaurants? We started it” referring to how black players would have to get their food at the back of a restaurant or eat in the kitchen out of sight of white customers.

Dennis “Bose”Biddle autographing a baseball 

The truth of the matter is that the players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society.  The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated.  When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations.  A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.

Carl Long giving a baseball and good advice to a young fan

Men like Carl Long are responsible for this.  Some made their impact at a national level while others like Carl and Dennis on a local and regional level.  Like the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” this fellowship grows smaller with each passing year. Hubert “Daddy” Wooten was one of the last Negro League players; he played for and later managed the Indianapolis Clowns in the years where they barnstormed.  During that time he managed the legendary Satchel Paige. “Big Daddy” Wooten  is the youngest of the he surviving Negro League players a mere 65 years old.  Most are in their mid-70s or in their 80s.  It is important that their friends and neighbors write down their stories so they are not forgotten.

Baseball in particular the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum has done a credible job of trying to preserve the contributions of these men to baseball and the American experience. Yet many more stories are still to be told.  I hope that as I continue to visit with Carl, Sam Allen in Norfolk and other players that I will be able to help them tell more of those stories.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Muddling Through PTSD Recovery: A Chaplain’s Story of Return from War

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“Captain, you do need time. You cannot achieve complete recovery so quickly. And it’s perfectly normal after what you’ve been through, to spend a great deal of time trying to find yourself again” Counselor Troi to Captain Picard in Star Trek the Next Generation after his encounter with the Borg.

Coming home from war can be harder than going. At least it was for me. I have always been a hard charger. When I was at war in Iraq I was at the top of my game but when I came back I was broken. I experienced things there that changed me forever and it has taken a long time to find myself again.

I came home with chronic, severe PTSD, anxiety and depression. I suffer severe Tinnitus and pathetic speech comprehension. The ringing in my ears is non-stop and in any kind of group setting or conference I struggle to understand what is going on even though my hearing loss measured in decibels is minimal. The loss is neurological and when tested I measured in the third percentile of people, meaning that 97% of people understand speech better than me.

I still suffer from chronic insomnia, vivid nightmares and night terrors. I still struggle with agoraphobia, hyper-vigilance and occasional road rage. Thankfully none of them are as bad as they used to be but they are ever present. I have had my ups and downs with prescription medications that were used by my doctors to manage my PTSD symptoms and sleep disorders.  For a while drank too much just to help me make it through the nights. I am told that this is common for many who return from war.

When I came home I felt abandoned, especially by church leaders and many chaplains, many who I had thought were my friends. That is understandable as I was radioactive.  My faith had collapsed and for two years I was an agnostic desperately hoping to find God. As such I have a certain bond with those that struggle with God or even those that do not believe. This makes a lot of religious people uncomfortable, especially ministers. I think the reason for this is that is scares the hell out of people to think that they too might have a crisis of faith because they too have doubts. 

The first person who asked me about how I was doing spiritually was not anyone from my church or a chaplain, but rather my first shrink, Elmer Maggard. When faith returned around Christmas 2009 it was different and so was I. I tried to express it and began to write about it. For my openness I got in trouble with my old denomination and asked to leave because I was “too liberal.” Thankfully a bishop from the Episcopal Church who knew me recommend that I seek out Bishop Diana Dale of the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. Thanks to that I have a loving new denomination and since we do not have a local parish of the ACOC I have found  St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia as a place of refuge. It is the historically African American parish in the area and I love the people there. They helped me when I was in my deepest times of struggle. 

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My struggle was really hard on my wife Judy. Before I deployed I was the strong one. Afterward my contribution to our marriage was minimal and I was often a complete ass. I was in survival mode and and barely making it. I couldn’t reach out to her, I was collapsing on myself and she felt it as rejection. Our marriage suffered terribly and both of us thought that it might not survive. But over the past 18 months or so it has been getting better. I can share with her again and she has become a source of added strength. We enjoy being together again and we recently celebrated our 30th anniversary with many of the friends who helped us make it through the hard times. 

In time I gathered a support network. There are some Chaplains that I can be absolutely honest with, as well as my Command Master Chief, Ed Moreno. Likewise I have friends outside the military, including people I have known for years who still, despite all my flaws care for me. I have found other places of refuge where I have relationships with people, one is Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides Baseball team, another was Grainger Stadium, former home of the Kinston Indians. I have a couple of places as well that are like my real life version of the TV show Cheers

Baseball brings me a great deal of peace, especially when I can go to the ballpark. When I was in dire straits the management of the Tides allowed me to go wander Harbor Park during the off season, just to take it in.  Running on the beach is something that I have come to cherish here in North Carolina, I will miss the easy access that I have here when I return home to Virginia in two weeks. 

Writing on my blog has been good therapy. As an introvert I process information by taking things in. Being constantly around people wears me out. I am good at what I do but it takes a great deal of effort to do it. 

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My unflappable little dog Molly has been a life saver, she insisted on coming to stay with me about halfway through my tour. She helped me recover my humanity and her presence gave me something outside of me to care for and because of that I ended up seeking out people again instead of holing up in my apartment.

My spiritual life still has its ups and downs and I discovered that I am far from perfect, and I hate that sometimes. However, that being said I do feel more connected with God, people and at peace despite my ongoing struggles.

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Picard breaking down

It has not been an easy road, but it has been worth it. I find it interesting that the Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager series help me process many of my feelings, thoughts and emotions. I quoted part of a Next Generation episode at the beginning of this article, one where Captain Picard is recovering from the trauma of being abducted by the Borg. I find the episode compelling on many levels. Part of that episode deals with Picard trying to figure out his life again. After a tumultuous visit with his family he and his older brother engage in a fight, during which he breaks down. Picard’s brother realizing the importance of what was happening said to him “So – my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball in February: The Freedom Classic and an MVP Beats a Drug Charge

I was able to go to a baseball game today. It is hard to believe that there are ball games going on outside of Spring Training but NCAA College Baseball has been underway for over a week. Today drove up to Kinston to take in a game between the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. The occasion was the Second Annual Freedom Classic.

It was a cold day with temps in the low 50s and winds blowing 15-25 miles an hour but I was able to get together with my friends in Kinston to watch a game for the first time since the Kinston Indians final season ended with a loss to Frederick in the Carolina League Championship series on September 15th.  Though the weather was cold it was good to be back with my friends watching a game at a wonderful baseball venue.  I hate the fact that the Indians owner sold them without a replacement team and did not offer the city a chance to find an owner that would keep the team in Kinston. But at least there was baseball in Kinston this weekend.

Of course spring training is underway and all of the teams are working out.  Lots of moves were made in the post season following one of the most dramatic seasons in baseball history. Big names moved, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to the Angels, Prince Fielder to the Tigers, Ozzie Guillen taking over the Marlins and a host of other situations.

But despite all the positives there was a cloud during the post season involving the National League MVP, Milwaukee Brewers Left Fielder Ryan Braun reportedly failed a drug test for Performance Enhancement Drugs (PEDs).  Braun appealed the results of the test and Friday it was announced that Braun won his appeal based on issues with the chain of custody of the sample. Evidently the collector of the sample who was required to immediately send the sample to the testing lab via FedEx held onto the sample.

Braun was out proclaiming his innocence today. He was articulate and appeared humble but at the same time there are still questions in many people’s minds about the test and if he was clean or not.  Having been in the military for over 30 years I have been repeatedly drug tested and as a Company Commander had to oversee a unit drug testing program.  When I heard about the process used and the actions of the collector I was appalled. Chain of custody does matter in any type of drug test that can impact someone’s career no matter what line of work they are in.  Failure to safeguard samples undermines the integrity of any drug testing program and there are cases every year where positive results are thrown out because of a chain of custody violation.

I learned about the importance of chain of custody as a Company Commander back in 1986. I had a soldier test positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. We were sticklers about maintaining a solid chain of custody and based on the test results and the un-impeachability of the chain of custody I offered non-judicial punishment under Article 15 and reduced the soldier in rank. Since the soldier was otherwise a good soldier and back then a commander did not have to separate a soldier under pay grade E4 for a first drug related offense I elected to keep the soldier in the Army. The soldier appealed the sentence as is his right and to my surprise I was called to my higher headquarters and had my ass chewed by the group commander and Sergeant Major for not maintaining the chain of custody. I knew that was not the case but the Platoon Sergeant who had accompanied the soldier to the headquarters for the appeal inadvertently left the chain of custody documentation on his desk. When the group commander reviewed the paperwork he thought that the chain of custody had not been maintained. Within 5 minutes I produced the original documents which changed the nature of the conversation, the sentence was upheld and the ass chewing stopped. But I learned that the chain of custody for a drug test or paperwork regarding a failed drug test needs to be airtight to maintain the integrity of the system.

In the case of Ryan Braun I have my doubts, I but the incompetence of the collector who did not adhere to established rules of shipping a sample brought the chain of custody into question. If Braun was indeed innocent as he maintains then he will always have a cloud that follows him. If he lied and the test was really positive then justice was not done because chain of custody was called into question.

The little things do matter.

Since I got home I have had the MLB Channel on all night, that is so much more relaxing than almost anything else on television. Only about a week until the first Spring Training games begin. It may be cold but spring is in the air.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Season and Team Remembered: Images of the Kinston Indians Final Season

Saturday marked the final game in the long association of Kinston North Carolina and their advanced Single-A Carolina League team the Kinston Indians.  The K-Tribe as they were affectionately known was sold in a deal to replace the AA Southern League Carolina Mudcats who are moving to Pensacola Florida.  While it is unknown when, if or in what form professional baseball will return to this small Eastern North Carolina town.  Most people are hoping for another Single-A team to take up residence in Historic Grainger Stadium which received a major facelift at the expense of the city to demonstrate their commitment to keeping baseball a part of the town.  There are rumors and speculation but nothing official yet. The visit of both the President and Vice President of Minor League Baseball to the town this year gives me some measure of hope that they will bring a team to Kinston next year.

The K-Tribe gave their faithful at Historic Grainger Stadium a memorable final season advancing to the Mills Cup Championship series after winning the Southern Division of the Carolina League for the 11th time.  I have been following the team since my first tour at Camp LeJeune  in 1999 and have made periodic visits to see the Indians between then and my reassignment to the Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune last October.  This year I made sure that I attended as many games as I could knowing that it was the last season for a team that I had come to love.

As I began attending I met some wonderful people.  One gentleman, Rick Holder gave me some of his season tickets on games that he knew that he could not attend.  I came to know former Negro League and Carolina League pioneer Carl Long and his wife Ella, as well as my friends Toni and Jerry, Anna and Rocky, Lori, Cara and Jennifer.  There were the players that I was able to spend time with, the off field staff and the K-Tribe General Manager Benjamin Jones.  His predecessor in the job was Shari Massengale, the first female GM in the Minor Leagues.

The team allowed me to throw out the first pitch and when I was interviews and filmed for the Department of Defense sponsored Real Warriors campaign which features how military personnel deal with PTSD.  That was a special night.  I was also in Kinston shorty after Hurricane Irene struck, the town was hit hard and even Chief  Tom A. Hawk in right center field was damaged.

Granger Stadium is a special place. The grounds crew which has won 5 awards for best field in the league in the last 10 years may win yet another this year.  The people are good people and good fans.  Though the K-Tribe did not win a final Mills cup they have contributed much to the town and the town to them.

Early on I decided that I would attempt to chronicle as much of the season in photos as I could.  Since I took well over 1500 photos this year these are just a small portrait that I hope will help people remember this last season of K-Tribe Baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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K-Tribe on Verge of Elimination: Lose 3-2 on Wednesday and 7-3 Thursday to Keys

Jesus Aguilar hit his 4th Home Run in 4 consecutive post-season games

In the space of 21 hours the Kinston Indians went from being 4 outs away from a two games to none series lead to being on the verge of elimination.  On Wednesday night in Frederick Maryland the Indians lost a close game which did not begin until 10 PM due to a 3 hour rain delay.  The Tribe took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning and lost when reliever Kyle Landis gave up 2 runs with 2 outs on singles by Manny Muchado, Miguel Abreu and Brian Ward. Frederick won the game which ended at about12:45 PM.  The teams arrived in Kinston after an overnight bus ride at about 7:30 AM Thursday.

K-Tribe starting pitcher Mike Rayl and Indians relievers struggled Thursday night

On Thursday at Historic Grainger Stadium the K-Tribe got off to a quick start on First Baseman Jesus Aguilar’s two run home run in the bottom of the second inning.  The shot was Aguilar’s fourth home run in the last 4 post season plays.  However the Indians were shut down by Frederick pitchers Scott Copeland, Ryan Berry and Sean Gleason scoring just one more run that in the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Keys played very aggressive baseball against a Kinston team that seemed at times listless taking advantage of K-Tribe mistakes all night long. Kinston’s problems began with and ended with pitching.  Starting pitcher Mike Rayl struggled from the beginning and relievers Trey Haley and Giovanni Soto had a hard time finding the plate. They were taken deep in the count by numerous Frederick batters and control was a major issue.  K-Tribe pitchers gave up 7 runs on 10 hits, but the walked 5, hit 3 and a wild pitch.  The K-Tribe added two errors in the field both on errant throws.

Keys reliever Ryan Berry looking like something out of the 1970s shut down K-Tribe hitters

To give credit to the Keys they played well, their pitching was strong and their hitting sharp. They used aggressive base running, stole 3 bases and laid down several outstanding bunts.  In the field turned three very important double plays that erased chances that the Tribe had to get back in the game.

The losses were difficult especially because of how well the Indians have played during the second half of the season.  It think that the loss Wednesday took a lot of life out of the Indians Thursday.

Friday night the teams will meet again in a must win game for the K-Tribe.  If the Indians win they will force game five on Saturday and if they lose it will be the end of an era for baseball in Kinston as the Indians franchise moves to Zebulon to become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  I will be there and cheering for the K-Tribe to win and force that final game in their quest for the Carolina League championship and the Mills Cup.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Kinston Wins Opener in Frederick: Defeat Keys 3-1

Tyler Holt 

Kinston pitchers were solid and timely hitting proved decisive as the Kinston Indians defeated the Frederick Key by a score of 3-1 at Harvey Grove Stadium in Frederick Maryland on Tuesday night.  The K-Tribe now stand two wins away from winning the Mills Cup and Carolina League Championship in this their final year in Kinston.

K-Tribe starter Clayton Cook got the win going 5 and a third innings giving up one run on four hits. Relievers Chris Jones and Toru Murata pitched solid innings and Preston Guilmet closed out the game to get the save.  Key’s starter Nicholas Houghian took the loss giving up 3 runs, 2 of which were earned on 6 hits in four inning work.

The Indians struck first in the top of the 3rd inning.  Tyler Holt singled and advanced to second on an errant pick off attempt by Houghian.  Bo Greenwell singled to advance Holt to third and Holt scored on a ground out by Adam Abraham.

The Keys got their only run in the bottom of the 3rd when Manny Muchado hit a two out double to drive in Bobby Stevens.

In the top of the 4th inning the K-Tribe struck again.  First Baseman Jesus Aguilar homered to lead off the inning, his second home run in as many games.  Tyler Cannon doubled to right and scored when Casey Frawley bunted for a single and took second on a throwing error by Key’s third baseman Dale Mollenhauer.

Kinston had 3 runs on 8 hits and left 7 runners aboard.  They committed no errors while turning two double plays.  K-Tribe pitchers struck out 8 and walked 4. The Keys scored 1 run on 7 hits leaving 9 men on base and committed 2 very costly errors.  Keys pitchers struck out 10 Indians and walked just 2 batters but were beaten by timely extra base hits and their team’s errors.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Celebration in Kinston as K-Tribe Wraps Up Carolina League South Title

The Kinston Indians (Cleveland) are now on the verge of finishing their 25th and final season in the Eastern North Carolina city in a grand fashion by defeating the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas) for the Carolina League Southern Division title.

Jesus Aguilar crosses home plate after his massive 3 run blast

The Indians (76-62) who won the second half battered the first half leading Pelicans (72-67) winning the series 3-1 battering the birds with 24 runs in the final three games.  Led by strong pitching and the hitting of  Tyler Holt, Adam Abraham and a massive final game three run homerun by Jesus Aguilar the Indians capitalized on defensive mistakes and pounded the Pelicans in the final three games by scores of 8-6, 7-0 and 9-2.

Indians starting pitcher Mike Rayl

I was at the two games in Kinston against Myrtle Beachand the K-Tribe was fun to watch. When the last out was recorded on Saturday night the celebration was something to remember. I have not seen a championship game in person although I did attend two games in the 1972 ALCS which the Oakland Athletics took from the Detroit Tigers winning the final game in Detroit.  To see the players celebrate and the fans remain after the game was special.

My friends and loyal K-Tribe fans

The Indians will open the final series for the Mills Cup against the Frederick Keys on Tuesday the 13th in Frederick.  The teams will play the first two games in Frederick and return to Kinston on Thursday the 15th.  The Keys (Baltimore) (80-60) defeated the Potomac Nationals in 5 games to win the Northern Division in a series extended by a rain out.

The Keys hold an 8-7 head to head advantage against the Indians in 2011. The teams during the second half of the season have been exceptionally well matched and the series should be exciting.

It ill also be the last series played inKinstonwin or lose. The K-Tribe will move to Zebulon to take the name of the AA Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League who are moving toPensacolaFlorida.  While it is indeterminate if Kinston will have a team next year both the President and the Vice President of Minor League Baseball have visited this year.  While old, Historic Grainger Stadium is very well maintained and its immaculately kept field is among the best in Single-A baseball.   Frederick whose future with the Keys was in doubt now appears to be on the verge of signing a 10 year stadium lease agreement with the Orioles affiliate.

Kinstonhas a long baseball history in the Carolina League and the team is central to the identity of this city which has been hard hit with the exporting of most of its textile jobs overseas.  I hope that Minor League Baseball finds a team for Kinston and I hope that the K-Tribe gives the city one last Carolina League title.  It has been a special season; why not go out on top?

I plan on being at each game to be played inKinstonwith my friends.  Watching a game at Grainger Stadium is like being in the stands in the movie Bull Durham.  The people fans and the team are special. It is the end of an era that hopefully will be the prelude to a new era of baseball in this historic town.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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