To my shame and disappointment, I have yet to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. I will get there one of these days. That’s a solemn vow.
But I have had the unequalled pleasure of visiting the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. Simply put, it is a national treasure.
The museum grabs you from the moment you walk in, pushing past a ticket window and through a turnstile to enter the exhibits. They cover all aspects of the Negro leagues – the games, the players, life on the road and the realities of American racial relations during much of the 20th Century.
The high point for me was the end, and I wasn’t prepared for its impact. When finished with the rest of the galleries, I suddenly found myself stepping onto a spectacular baseball field where life-size bronze statues of some of the greatest players are stationed at their positions.
Buck O’Neil. Cool Papa Bell. Josh Gibson.
You can walk right up to the statues on the dramatically lit Field of Legends. The statues are so life-like you expect them to say: “Hey, kid, get off the diamond. We’ve got a ballgame to play.”
For me, the biggest thrill was standing next to Satchel Paige on the mound, whose figure is a good head taller than me.
My dad had told me about watching him pitch when Paige joined the Cleveland Indians in the twilight of his career in the 1940s. Had Dad been there with me, I think he’d have felt the same lump in his throat that I did at the encounter.