Sentimental, fitting honor to a road long ago taken

July 29, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

Leon Day moved to Baltimore when his father got a job at a Westport glass factory. Day was 6 months old when he arrived with his family at Camden Station.

The station is now a ballpark, and the nearby section of Camden Street is now Leon Day Way -- in honor of the induction tomorrow of the late Negro Leagues star into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Day, 78, died of heart and kidney ailments on March 13, six days after learning of his election. A pitcher, second baseman and outfielder with the Newark Eagles, he grew up in the Mount Winans section of southwest Baltimore and was the 12th Negro Leagues star selected for the Hall.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke officially renamed the street "Leon Day Way" yesterday under a hot noontime sun in the ballpark's Eutaw Street plaza. Orioles great Frank Robinson spoke. So did Day's widow, Geraldine, who will give his Hall of Fame speech tomorrow.

One person recognized the significance of renaming a Camden Station street after a family that arrived there with a dream of a better life than the one they left in Alexandria, Va. -- Day's 80-year-old sister, Ida May Bolden.

The last speaker of the afternoon, Bolden stepped to the podium wearing a brown polka-dotted dress and a smile. Her eyes glistened. Her mind wandered to her first day in Baltimore. The details are fuzzy but familiar.

"I remember that day," said Bolden, who was 18 months old at the time of her family's move. "Of course, with my father and my mother talking about it all the time."

The significance did not hit Bolden, Day's only living sibling, until yesterday.

The highlight of the afternoon came when Mayor Schmoke counted down as Day's widow, Geraldine, unveiled the red and white street sign with Day's name on it. The moment was not lost on Bolden.

"When she unveiled that street plate, I almost fell to my knees," said Bolden, who leaves for Cooperstown this morning. "It was the greatest sensation I think I've ever had."

Day, who played baseball for teams such as the Mount Winans AC's and the Silver Moons, left Douglass High School after two years. He spent the bulk of his 17-year pro career with the Newark Eagles and played for the Baltimore Elite Giants for two seasons.

Day earned his greatest fame as a pitcher, appearing in a record seven Negro League all-star games. He defeated legendary Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Satchel Paige in three of their four RTC recorded meetings and struck out a Negro National League record 18 batters one night at Baltimore's Bugle Field. His accomplishments have engendered respect from a man with 586 major-league home runs. "The recognition that's coming to Leon Day is coming a little late but at least it's coming now," Robinson said.

"They're the ones that had to suffer, they're the ones with perseverance, and they never gave up. The ones that got the recognition -- Jackie [Robinson], Larry Doby, Willie Mays -- players like that also understand what players like Leon did for them."

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