High School, Culture(???) and Your History
Lots happening this week at RedHawks Field at Bricktown. More new food and beverage hardware arrived yesterday that will really improve your experience at the ballpark. I’ll give some updates of former (and maybe future) RedHawks in Astros camp on Monday! Until then, enjoy this long post to get you through Friday…
Majestic Roofing High School Baseball Series
Tonight, the Majestic Roofing High School Baseball Series begins with a doubleheader at RedHawks Field at Bricktown: Shidler vs. Mulhall-Orlando at 4:00 p.m. and Elgin vs. Wister at 7:00 p.m. There is NO CHARGE for admission to the games.
These games are the first two of 19 high school games scheduled in the month of March. The RedHawks reached out to every high school in the state of Oklahoma (over 460 schools) and presented a fundraising opportunity. In return for selling a pre-determined number of tickets to a selected RedHawks game, each participating high school kept a percentage of that ticket money as a fundraiser for the team and was allowed to play a game at RedHawks Field at Bricktown. This is another Redhawks community effort, giving the kids an opportunity to play in a professional atmosphere complete with public address, music, scoreboard and LED board and the whole works.
Here are a few interesting notes about some of the Majestic Roofing High School Baseball Series schools involving mileage and student body population:
- Longest one-way mileage for game in OKC: Wister High School – 194 miles
- Shortest one-way mileage for game in OKC: Destiny Christian School (private) – 5.5 miles
- Largest 9-12 student population: Yukon High School – 2,046 students
- Smallest 9-12 student population: Shidler High School – 61 students
- Schools with larger one-way mileage than student population: Shidler 145 miles/61 students; Wister 194 miles/179 students; Timberlake 121 miles/63 students; Moss 85 miles/81 students
- Game with largest total school population: Thursday, March 15 – Putnam City North (1,949) vs. Yukon (2,046) = 3,995
- Game with smallest total school population: Friday March 9 – Shidler (61) vs. Mulhall-Orlando (63) = 124
Anthem Auditions Tomorrow
Remember that The Oklahoman/Oklahoma City RedHawks National Anthem Auditions are scheduled from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, March 10, at Penn Square Mall.
Those who have a pre-determined audition time should be aware of it. If you did not pre-register and are still interested in an audition, you must wait in a standby line. Standbys will audition IF THERE IS TIME and on a first-come, first-served basis. Standbys are not guaranteed an audition. I’ll be there all day tomorrow, just don’t ask me to sing…
I know what you’re thinking: “J.P., are you blogging about literature? You can’t fool us. Can you even read?”
Well my answer to both questions is, “yes, smart alecks, though it does hurt my head.”
There is also a reason for this portion of the blog: I was asked to read to a group of nearly 400 fourth and fifth graders from Norman Public Schools on Wednesday inside the Meacham Auditorium at the University of Oklahoma’s union building as part of the Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture. The event is hosted annually by the University of Oklahoma and World Literature Today magazine, an OU publication. The 2012 Puterbuaugh Fellow is Marina Carr, an Irish playwright. The event was absolutely awesome.
As the honoree is Irish, and we are only days away from St. Patrick’s Day, the whole event is geared toward Irish literature and culture, including the celebrity read event of which I was a part. Three other celebrities, including OU scholars and performers of which I easily had the lowest college degree, read excerpts from other selections, and after each reader the organizers gave away a couple of copies of the selected book to a random winner in the room. For my portion, they selected an excerpt from London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. Dowd was born and raised in London, but both parents were Irish. I think that counts by default, but James Joyce might think she was full of blarney.
A guy with an Alabama accent reading British dialogue of an Irish author to Oklahoma school kids is quite the mix of cultures. As one Pacific Coast League broadcasting colleague so eloquently said, “the only culture I normally get is in my yogurt.”
After all, I am also the guy who pets the New Orleans police horses on Bourbon Street while holding a to-go hurricane. The only thing I am missing is jean shorts. Culture, indeed.
I am definitely not qualified to participate in an event like this, but I appreciate the honor of being selected and asked to participate. I also hope to get the chance in the future. Visit www.worldliteraturetoday.com for more.
Tell Me Your 89ers/RedHawks Memory
I had a couple of meetings this past week with a local historian/writer and a local politician, both of which prompted an idea. We all have memories of going to baseball games as a youngster, and each is unique. Maybe you met Rogers Hornsby when he managed here. Maybe it is your dad taking you to an 89ers game. Maybe it is your first autograph. Maybe you fell in love with a Diamond Girl. You could have seen the first Triple-A season in 1962.
It’s important that we tell your history, as your history and memories of a baseball game in OKC truly define a baseball franchise, so I am starting a contest. Send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter: @okcredhawksjp. Tell me your story, as short or as long as you would like. It might get posted on the blog here, and only the best will be printed in PlayBall game program during the upcoming 2012 season.
As an example of a really, really long story, here’s mine, except in Birmingham, Alabama:
Baseball in Birmingham
Baseball is a generational game. Older folks followed different players, who played a different style of game in a different era than we young bucks know about. Nearly all of the players worked second jobs or dropped their baseball careers to serve in the military during multiple wars. The game was followed differently, through recreations on radio, live play-by-play from the stadium or next-day coverage in a newspaper. The game itself has the same rules as then, but it is just a little different now. (Question: What would Ty Cobb think of today’s game? Answer: Who cares? He is probably still sliding in spikes high, yelling profanities at fans and fighting with umpires. But, boy could he hit for average.)
Not many places have such generational differences as my hometown area of Birmingham, Alabama. The differences are certainly generational, but for the older generations, memories are sometimes divided by race. For the older generations, there are two separate baseball histories in the city of Birmingham.
Racial tensions in Alabama exploded most dramatically during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. The United States Supreme Court ruled on numerous cases during that time that slowly dismantled the Jim Crow laws, and many leaders in Southern states and cities did not welcome the changes. Some refused to comply altogether, and leaders in Alabama and the city of Birmingham were among the most defiant.
The Jim Crow laws applied everywhere in the city, including the baseball park Rickwood Field. Opened in 1910, the stadium still stands only a few city blocks from the sites of the most controversial events in our country’s history: The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham’s Greyhound bus terminal. Bombings, fire hoses and police dogs and Freedom Riders attacks all happened while baseball was going on blocks away.
In the 1940s and 50s, baseball was the event in Birmingham. It was also the event for both races, in the same stadium, only separate.
The all-white Birmingham Barons were a major draw in the Southern Association. They played at Rickwood Field in the Southern Association (1901-61) and later in the Southern League (1964-65, 1967-75, 1981-Present), drawing impressive crowds while creating an illustrious history of success. In the 1960s they were known as the Athletics, the farm club for the Kansas City A’s.
Using the same stadium, though never used at the same time, Birmingham had an equally popular Negro League team called the Birmingham Black Barons. The Black Barons played in the Negro Southern League for eight seasons (1920-27) before moving to the highest level of Negro League ball. The franchise played in the Negro National League for ten seasons (1927-31, 1956-60) and in the Negro American League for 18 seasons (1937-38, 1940-55).
The right field bleachers were the only seating for African-American fans during white Barons Southern Association games. Often the Negro League Black Barons games would out-draw the Southern League games at the gate.
Why have I told you all of this? Here’s why:
If you ask an African-American Birmingham resident from that generation of their baseball memory, it might be of Willie Mays, Satchel Paige or Charlie Pride with the Black Barons. Ask a white Birmingham resident from that generation of their baseball memory and it could be of Jimmy Piersall, Walt Dropo or manager Cal Ermer with the Barons.
It was not until 1964 that an integrated team played before a fully-integrated crowd in Birmingham, Alabama. The opener of the 1964 season was played only weeks following the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and the threat of racially-motivated violence loomed. Extra police were stationed around the ballpark, and even though the Barons gave out safety razors at the gate to fans on Opening Day, the opener and the season went off without incident.
To understand the complete history of Birmingham baseball, you must understand the history of the city and its residents. Remember who you are asking and what they were allowed to see. Everyone’s baseball memory is different.
For more information about Rickwood Field or the Friends of Rickwood, visit www.rickwood.com.
My Baseball Memory
I was born and raised in Alabama, so by default I am connected to this past. Those events might be the city’s history and the history of two generations of Alabamians before me, but it certainly is not my personal history or the history of those born in the last five decades there. Alabama has matured (at least in this area) a lot since the 1960s. Remember, I am only 30 years old. Here is a story of a kid born in the 1980s; my story:
I grew up in the city of Trussville, Alabama. When my family moved there from Mobile in 1986, the city limits might have held only 5,000 residents. The term “city” might have been an overstatement then. At the 2010 Census, there were nearly 20,000 residents. Trussville is a suburb just Northeast of Birmingham, in a fast-growing part of the area.
I grew up going to Hoover, Alabama for Birmingham Barons baseball games. Hoover is the suburb on the south side of Birmingham, an affluent community that is absolutely booming. You might remember it from the recent MTV television show “Two-A-Days.” It is about 28 miles from the house in Trussville to the ballpark. The Barons moved there from Rickwood Field in 1988 when Hoover Metropolitan Stadium opened for business, a giant concrete behemoth that is not really pleasing to the eye, but was better and safer than Rickwood Field.
As a White Sox affiliate, the Barons had numerous stars come through Double-A on the way to Chicago when I was a kid: Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, Ray Durham, Jack McDowell to name a few. Michael Jordan was a star for the Barons, but played another sport in Chicago. We were there his first games with the team, with 15,000 others. I remember some of the not-so-famous names too like Scott Cepicky, Kennis Pledger and Jerry Wolak. Their three autographs on a Southern League baseball is still one of my prized possessions.
But one memory really sticks with me and gives me my love for baseball today: the orchestra of events leading up to the game and the anticipation for the first pitch.
We would go to games early, usually the first ones in line at the gate when it opened. Most weekend games we would be there and certainly if the Famous San Diego Chicken was scheduled. We would buy a game program (for the lucky numbers) and go take our general admission seat even with first base, half-way up the grandstand. It was an unobstructed view, as a walkway was below us; we were in the first row of GA seats. The outfield and infield were so finely manicured and designed that it seemed to burst with green in the hot, setting Alabama sunshine. I always wondered how the players didn’t mess up the grass patterns by walking on them.
We would be there so early that visiting batting practice would still be going on, so we would count home runs and beg for batting practice balls. All of the sudden, the players would all disappear into the dugout and an army of grounds crew guys emerged from the mysterious tunnel behind home plate. The crew would start storing away the batting practice equipment back into the mysterious tunnel. More equipment would come out of the tunnel; a tractor with a drag on the back, rakes, hoses. Each guy had an individual role, and we would watch every one. Then after the guy dragged the infield in large circles on his three-wheeled tractor, he would park it on the side and pick up the hose (helped by four others) and begin watering the infield. He would start with home plate, move slowly up the first base path, then deliberately cover each speck of rust-colored dirt from the first base bag all the way to third and on down the third base path. The guys would then rid the hose of all water, roll it up and store it.
As this was going on, another army would begin emerging from the dugouts as the players came back out in clean, bright white uniforms with thin black pinstripes to begin warming up for the game. The stands continued to fill with fans.
The music in the stadium played. A deep-voiced public address announcer would welcome us “to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium and another exciting evening of Birmingham Barons baseball.” The theme song would play: “Bar-ons Base-Ball, The-Best-Yet!”
People were gathering the National Anthem singers around a microphone. We all stood and sang. The players burst out of the dugout to their positions and then it was game-on.
The point is, the players just didn’t show up and play. There was a whole series of events that happened in the hours prior to a game that I did not know existed before we started going to those games. Sure I liked watching situational hitting and home runs and strikeouts, but these other folks were pretty entertaining to me also for some reason. Now I am one of those other folks. That’s my baseball memory.
Each year the Birmingham Barons play one regular season game at old Rickwood Field, called the “Rickwood Classic.” The teams normally wear old-style uniforms and usually the Barons will wear a uniform of an old team or era of their history. I went in 1999 when I was in high school, the year the Barons honored the Black Barons, wearing the uniforms and caps of the old Negro League franchise. Some 35 former Black Barons attended the game, and former Black Baron and country music legend Charlie Pride sang the National Anthem. A packed house enjoyed a celebration of baseball, fully integrated.
A similar event 35 years earlier in that same stadium would have literally been illegal. In Birmingham, what was two separate baseball histories is now embraced and celebrated as one. Each season, that event is a celebration of all of Birmingham’s baseball history. I was fortunate enough to broadcast consecutive Rickwood Classic games while with Jacksonville, in 2007 and 2008. What a history lesson.
The 2012 Rickwood Classic is scheduled for Wednesday, May 30, and will celebrate War Time Baseball. The Barons will host the Chattanooga Lookouts, and two-time All-Star Dale Murphy will be in attendance. (For the record, Murphy did not play in war time…)
Things are much better now in Alabama. Thank goodness that times change. Just remember that times do not change unless the people change with them.
See you at the ballpark…