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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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Remembering My Friendship with Carl Long, Negro League Hall of Famer and Civil Rights Pioneer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a day of recovery from a long week with little sleep, lots of work, contractors in the house doing renovations, and a lot of stress. Last night it took me forever to get to sleep even though I went to bed early I could not get to sleep until about four AM. I big part of the problem was that I had my sleep meds lapse as there was a problem between my military provider, the military pharmacy, and the civilian pharmacy that my meds get transferred to. I put on my CPAP and with the lights off I laid in bed for almost four hours before I finally went to sleep. I slept until two PM. I did go out and pick up some melatonin and Advil PM to try to help me sleep tonight. We did get a bit more work done in the house today but not nearly what I hoped to get accomplished.

This evening I had a twitter exchange with a few people including the President of the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame in Kansas City. One of the people encouraged me to write down my memories of the Negro League players that became my friends. The best was the late Carl Long who is in the Negro League Hall of Fame. So tonight I am reposting an article about the beginning of my friendship with him. I will post another tomorrow night.

So until then,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Me with Carl Long

On Friday, after a long and stressful week at work I decided to head to Kinston to see a ball game.  It was a rough week, my staff and I dealt with the death of an 11 year old girl that came through our ER on Monday morning.  I found that a Marine that I had served with while serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001.  Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman was killed around Memorial Day with 7 of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard.  I remembered the great Marine and wonderful young man that I knew back then.  That night I went out and sat in the light of the half moon and cried. Some other things went on and I finished work Friday caring for a family that lost their unborn baby and knowing that I was going to have to come in during the early morning hours Saturday for another still-birth.  I needed something and for me that “something” is baseball.

So when I was done with work I loaded up my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and drove from LeJeune to Kinston. The trip across rural Eastern North Carolina was relaxing, there was little traffic and despite a passing thunder shower was uneventful, not even a driver doing well less than the speed limit in a no-passing zone to annoy the spit out of me. Eastern North Carolina has its own charm, small towns and settlements dot the farm fields and forests of the area. It is not uncommon to drive by a former plantation or to pass gas stations and country stores that seem to have stopped in time.

Kinston is one of those towns that have seen better times, the outsourcing of the garment industry to Central America and Asia has hit the town hard.  While a budding aviation industry promises better times many of the poorer and less educated people in the city have little opportunity.  While there are some very nice areas in town the central part of the city, especially downtown shows the real effect of what economic damage has been done to our country by the actions of industries to relocate overseas and actions by successive administrations and congresses to help them abandon Americans in order to increase profits.

However Kinston has had a team in the Carolina League for years and Minor League Baseball has been in the city continuously since 1937, with a four year break between 1958 and 1962 when the Kinston Eagles became part of the Coastal Plains League.  Grainger Stadium was built in 1946. The team became part of the Carolina League in 1956. Over the years the Kinston team has had various affiliations with Major League teams as well as various names.  The Team was called the Eagles until 1982 when they became the Blue Jays until 1986 when they again became the Eagles. Then in 1986 they became the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, a relationship that they maintain until this day. Before the 2011 season it was announced that the team had been sold and was being moved to Zebulon North Carolina to replace the Carolina Mudcats which are moving to Pensacola Florida. The team owner is seeking to bring another team to Kinston in time for the 2012 season.  It will be a sad day if a team cannot be found to bring to Kinston which has one of the nicest parks in Class “A” ball.

I got to the game and was able to relax talking with new friends and moving around the ballpark to take pictures. When I moved back to the first base line I saw a man that I had watched a game with earlier in the year in his season ticket box. John is a retired Navy Supply Corps Officer and really nice to spend time with. This particular evening he was sitting beside a heavy set older African American man wearing a Negro League cap.  I came up and John invited me to sit with them and I got to meet the man, Carl Long.

Carl had played ball in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Barons and played with Willie Mays and for legendary manager Buck O’Neal and he was the first black player in the Carolina League playing with the Kinston Eagles when they were with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization.  In 1956 he led the team in home runs with 18, hit .299 and had 111 RBIs a season record that still stands in Kinston.

It was really nice just to be able to listen and to spend time with one of those great men of the Negro Leagues and pioneers of baseball integration. He played with Mays, McCovey, Clemente and against Aaron and even country and western singer Charlie Pride.  He played on a number of minor league teams until the end of 1957.  He was 22 years old and had a lot of good years left in him but he had married the woman of his dreams and he elected to settle in Kinston with her.  They are still married and went on to become the first black deputy Sheriff and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department and even the first black commercial bus driver.

Carl is part of the Living Legends of surviving Negro League players and makes many appearances, the most recent at Rickwood Field in Birmingham the oldest ballpark in the country and home of the Barons.  He will be honored on July 22ndin Kinston with other Negro League players, including Sam Allen who I know from Norfolk.

I plan on visiting more with Carl as I enjoyed the man immensely. When he found my interesting in baseball history and the Negro Leagues he gave me an autographed baseball card.

I drove home through the night feeling much better even knowing that I would be called in to deal with sad situations at the hospital, but once again I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Carl and John and to meet some other really nice people.

Thank God for baseball and the Church of Baseball, Grainger Stadium Parish.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Blowing out the Candle(stick)…Power Goes out During Big 49ers – Steelers Game

I hesitate to call Candlestick Park old. It opened the year that I was born just across the bay.  I have never been to a 49er’s game but saw the Giants a number of times at the venerable yard. However even in the 1970s it was cold and dank, especially during the summer.  Monday night however the old stadium lost power twice the first time just before kickoff and the second during the second quarter of the game between the 49ers and Steelers.

The stadium has been the scene of some of the most memorable moments in sports history. One was “The Catch” when the 49ers defeated the highly favored Dallas Cowboys on January 10th 1982. Tight End Dwight Clark leaped to grab a pass from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship game, a game which ended the decade long Cowboys dominance of the conference.

It was also the site of the 1989 World Series.  The cross bay Oakland Athletics had taken the first too games in Oakland and the pre-game activities were in full swing when  a massive earthquake, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck Northern California. Measuring 6.9 (7.1 surface wave) the quake hit at 5:04 PM on October 17th 1989 and was the first earthquake ever recorded on national television.  I was a seminary student and I remember sitting in front of my television in our run down East Fort Worth home, a neighborhood known for its frequent appearances on the TV show COPS.  Judy was in the kitchen getting something to drink if I recall and I watched the event occur. It was surreal and being from California I knew that it had to be a bad quake.

The Giants never won a World Series will playing at the “Stick” despite having some of the greatest players to ever play the game grace the field.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobbie and Barry Bonds, the Alou brother’s outfield, Felipe, Manny and Jesus who became the first “all brothers” outfield in 1963. Of course there were pitchers like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.  49ers greats Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott all made their names in the cavernous confines of Candlestick.

 

The 49ers moved to the Stick in 1971 from Kezar Stadium while the Giants moved to the new Pac-Bell or AT&T Park in 2000.  The Beatles player their last full concert there on August 29th 1966.   The biggest event I ever saw at Candlestick was Giant’s pitcher Ed Halicki no-hitting the Mets back on August 24th 1975.

The power outage was called embarrassing by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the Pacific Gas and Electric had no immediate explanation for the outage. The fact that it happened on a nationwide broadcast of Monday Night Football gave it fare more attention than in might have received. Fortunately for the 49ers approval of a new stadium in Santa Clara are almost done and by 2015 the team should be in its new home so long as the ghosts and demons of the Stick don’t find their way south.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Men of the Negro Leagues: Carl Long Appreciation Day

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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Padre Steve’s First All-Star Game Memories

My dad taught me to love the game of Baseball and art of that love was the annual experience of watching the All-Star Game. I continue that tonight with the National League has just one by a score of 5-1.

I first remember doing this in the late 1960s but where the All-Star Game became etched in my mind was in the summer of 1970.  We were living in Long Beach California about a 15 minute drive from “The Big A” as Angel’s Stadium was known back then. Dad was taking me to every game that he could and back then tickets were easy to come by and players were very accessible to fans, especially 10 year old kids like me.

Riverfront Stadium

I remember going the Anaheim Stadium and getting to vote for the players. I didn’t know it then but it was the first time since 1957 that the position players were voted in by fans.  I don’t remember all the players that I voted for but the one that I do remember voting for, Angel’s First Baseman and Gold Glove winner Jim Spencer was not elected or named as a reserve.  Later that year I wrote a short essay for the “My Favorite Angel” contest telling why Spencer was my favorite Angel and ended up being one of the runners up for the contest. My name was in theLong Beachpaper, I still have the clipping and my name was announced by Angel’s announcer Dick Enberg during a game and I got two tickets directly behind home plate.

I do remember some of my other picks that made the rosters as elected players or reserves, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Boog Powell, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Sandy Alomar, Tony Perez, Jim Fregosi and Pete Rose.

I was the first election that I ever voted in and certainly more worthwhile than most political elections that I have vote in since.  When the game came on July 14th we gathered in from of our television to watch.  I was transfixed as I watched the action. We still had a black and white television and antennae as cable TV was not available.  It is hard to believe that back then we had only the three major networks ABC, NBC and CBS, no ESPN, MLB Channel or any of the region sports networks that air Major League games today.

Left Phillips California Angels Manager and me in 1970.He was one of Earl Weaver’s American League Coaches in the 1970 All Star Game

The game as was telecast on NBC which also televised the Saturday “Game of the Week” and called by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Mickey Mantle who had been out of the game for a season and a half.  It was played at the brand new Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati a dual purpose stadium designed for the Reds and the Bengals covered in some of the most horrible artificial turf imaginable with cut outs for the bases, home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  It was very similar to Three River’s Stadium inPittsburgh; Veteran’s Stadium inPhiladelphiaand so unlike the nicest field built in the 1970sKansas City’s Kaufman Stadium.  It should come as no surprise that Riverfront,Three Rivers and the Vet are gone and Kaufman is as beautiful as ever.

It was a great game certainly one of the epics in terms of All Star Games.  The American League had a 4-1 lead in the top of the 9th as Jim Catfish Hunter gave up a lead off home run to Giant’s catcher Dick Dietz. Two more runs would score the last being Joe Morgan, then with the Houston Astros who scored on a sacrifice fly by Roberto Clemente off Yankees’ pitcher Mel Stottlemyer who was credited with a blown save.

The game went to the 12th inning tied 4-4 Earl Weaver sent Angel’s ace Clyde Wright who had thrown a no-hitter in Anaheim against the A’s just 11 days before for a second inning of relief work.  Wright got the first two outs and then gave up consecutive singles to Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz. He then gave up a single to Jim Hickman which was fielded by Royals outfielder Amos Otis. Otis got a great throw to Indians Rookie Catcher Ray Fosse who dropped the ball when he was run over by Rose at home plate.

The Pete Rose hit on Ray Fosse that gave the National League a 12th Inning Walk Off win

Dad was torn on this. He loved Pete Rose but he had come to like dare say an American League team, the Angels.  He hated to see Clyde Wright get the loss.  I still remember that collision as if it were yesterday and despite his being banned from the game I still admire the playing ability and hustle of Pete Rose.

That was my first All Star Game.  The only ones that I have missed since have been those when I was deployed and unable to watch.  I love to see the players there and though the All Star format has its flaws I still love it because it takes me back to that magical summer of 1970 and fond memories of my dad teaching me the game at Anaheim Stadium and in our back yard.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Evening in the Minor Leagues with Carl Long

Me with Carl Long

On Friday, after a long and stressful week at work I decided to head to Kinston to see a ball game.  It was a rough week, my staff and I dealt with the death of an 11 year old girl that came through our ER on Monday morning.  I found that a Marine that I had served with while serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001.  Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman was killed around Memorial Day with 7 of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard.  I remembered the great Marine and wonderful young man that I knew back then.  That night I went out and sat in the light of the half moon and cried. Some other things went on and I finished work Friday caring for a family that lost their unborn baby and knowing that I was going to have to come in during the early morning hours Saturday for another still-birth.  I needed something and for me that “something” is baseball.

So when I was done with work I loaded up my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and drove from LeJeune to Kinston. The trip across rural Eastern North Carolina was relaxing, there was little traffic and despite a passing thunder shower was uneventful, not even a driver doing well less than the speed limit in a no-passing zone to annoy the spit out of me. Eastern North Carolina has its own charm, small towns and settlements dot the farm fields and forests of the area. It is not uncommon to drive by a former plantation or to pass gas stations and country stores that seem to have stopped in time.

Kinston is one of those towns that have seen better times, the outsourcing of the garment industry to Central America and Asia has hit the town hard.  While a budding aviation industry promises better times many of the poorer and less educated people in the city have little opportunity.  While there are some very nice areas in town the central part of the city, especially downtown shows the real effect of what economic damage has been done to our country by the actions of industries to relocate overseas and actions by successive administrations and congresses to help them abandon Americans in order to increase profits.

However Kinston has had a team in the Carolina League for years and Minor League Baseball has been in the city continuously since 1937, with a four year break between 1958 and 1962 when the Kinston Eagles became part of the Coastal Plains League.  Grainger Stadium was built in 1946. The team became part of the Carolina League in 1956. Over the years the Kinston team has had various affiliations with Major League teams as well as various names.  The Team was called the Eagles until 1982 when they became the Blue Jays until 1986 when they again became the Eagles. Then in 1986 they became the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, a relationship that they maintain until this day. Before the 2011 season it was announced that the team had been sold and was being moved to Zebulon North Carolina to replace the Carolina Mudcats which are moving to Pensacola Florida. The team owner is seeking to bring another team to Kinston in time for the 2012 season.  It will be a sad day if a team cannot be found to bring to Kinston which has one of the nicest parks in Class “A” ball.

I got to the game and was able to relax talking with new friends and moving around the ballpark to take pictures. When I moved back to the first base line I saw a man that I had watched a game with earlier in the year in his season ticket box. John is a retired Navy Supply Corps Officer and really nice to spend time with. This particular evening he was sitting beside a heavy set older African American man wearing a Negro League cap.  I came up and John invited me to sit with them and I got to meet the man, Carl Long.

Carl had played ball in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Barons and played with Willie Mays and for legendary manager Buck O’Neal and he was the first black player in the Carolina League playing with the Kinston Eagles when they were with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization.  In 1956 he led the team in home runs with 18, hit .299 and had 111 RBIs a season record that still stands in Kinston.

It was really nice just to be able to listen and to spend time with one of those great men of the Negro Leagues and pioneers of baseball integration. He played with Mays, McCovey, Clemente and against Aaron and even country and western singer Charlie Pride.  He played on a number of minor league teams until the end of 1957.  He was 22 years old and had a lot of good years left in him but he had married the woman of his dreams and he elected to settle in Kinston with her.  They are still married and went on to become the first black deputy Sheriff and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department and even the first black commercial bus driver.

Carl is part of the Living Legends of surviving Negro League players and makes many appearances, the most recent at Rickwood Field in Birmingham the oldest ballpark in the country and home of the Barons.  He will be honored on July 22nd in Kinston with other Negro League players, including Sam Allen who I know from Norfolk.

I plan on visiting more with Carl as I enjoyed the man immensely. When he found my interesting in baseball history and the Negro Leagues he gave me an autographed baseball card.

I drove home through the night feeling much better even knowing that I would be called in to deal with sad situations at the hospital, but once again I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Carl and John and to meet some other really nice people.

Thank God for baseball and the Church of Baseball, Grainger Stadium Parish.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis, natural disasters and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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