Tag Archives: Negro Leagues baseball

Cleveland’s League Park: A gem restored

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I wore my old-time “skimmer” — just like the “cranks” who followed baseball early in the 20th century — to the refurbished League Park in Cleveland. The infield can be seen to the right beyond the fence.

June was a good baseball month for me: Not only did I get to take in my first game at Pittsburgh, but on a trip back to my hometown of Cleveland I visited the old location of League Park.

The park was the full-time or part-time home of Cleveland professional baseball [go ahead, insert your stinging Cleveland joke here] from 1891 through 1950. Four years later, most of the park was demolished. In all my years growing up in Cleveland, I never visited, and until arriving a few weekends ago I didn’t expect to find much there.

How wrong I was. On site is a beautiful new ball field in the same funky dimensions as the old League Park, where so many great players of the past rounded the bases. Even more surprising, a summer college game was being played between teams from Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The ballpark is alive again, thanks to the City of Cleveland investing in a rebuilding project completed in 2014.

There’s no grandstand, and only a few fans were parked along the sidelines in lawn chairs with umbrellas shielding them from the sun. But a game was underway, and that made me very, very happy.

We arrived too late in the day to tour the small Baseball Heritage Museum in the park’s old ticket house. It’s a good reason for me to go back, only this time I won’t wait 60 years.

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Not much is left of the old park save for the old ticket house and a portion of the wall along Lexington Avenue. This is shot from inside the old park. The illustrations feature former players from major and Negro leagues, including (from left) Quincy Trouppe, Bill “Wamby” Wambsganns Bob Feller and mural artist Jerome White.

 

 

 

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The Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City

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.

Negro Leagues Baseball MuseumThe 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.

Awesome.

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.