Negro leagues exhibit has brief homestand at Oriole Park

Around The Diamond

August 24, 2006|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,Sun Reporter

The story of baseball's Negro leagues is one not only of opportunities denied, but also of chances created out of resourcefulness.

With segregation in professional baseball closing doors to African-American players for the first half of the 20th century, Rube Foster created a league for blacks in 1920. That league and others like it would eventually rival their major league counterparts in talent - producing players such as Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Willie Mays - and in fan following.

In the same spirit, 53 feet of that history visits Baltimore in a Roadway tractor-trailer this weekend, this year's final stop for a mobile exhibit commissioned by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

"We want you to come to Kansas City, but we can't wait for them to see what we've done," said Bob Kendrick, the museum's marketing director. "If you can't come to the museum, we'll bring the story to you."

Oriole Park hosts the exhibit in Lot C tomorrow from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m.

On the truck, visitors will find team jerseys, film footage, interactive displays and a life-size statue of Satchel Paige, a longtime pitcher in the Negro leagues before he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at the age of 42.

Kendrick says the mini-museum will be useful not only for those with little knowledge of the Negro leagues, but even for those well-acquainted with Paige, legendary slugger Josh Gibson or master base-stealer Cool Papa Bell.

"Those are the marquee names of the Negro leagues," Kendrick said. "But when you tour the tractor-trailer, you will meet some players who are just as important as the marquee names."

Started in 1990, the museum has expanded from a one-room operation to a nonprofit organization with an annual budget of $1.8 million.

Yet the thought of a barnstorming exhibit didn't take shape until Roadway, an Akron, Ohio, shipping company, offered to sponsor the mobile museum.

The tour has grown from 25 cities in 2005 to 30 this year, with one more year to go.

"How often does something like that come into your lap?" Kendrick said of the partnership with the truck company. "It's something that we wanted to do, but we didn't have the resources. It's become one of the most meaningful things we've done."

Museum officials hope the exhibit entices tourists to visit Kansas City to see the museum.

According to Kendrick, it's been working.

"No question - physically and in the number of inquiries," he said. "And the Web traffic has increased exponentially. So we know that it's working. Our job is to parlay that into support."

But with fewer than 200 ex-Negro leaguers still living, part of the exhibit is simply to spread the story.

In addition to the mobile exhibit, artifacts from the museum also are at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the Little League Museum in South Williamsport, Pa.

"It's saving a piece of history from going extinct," Kendrick said. "We're trying to broaden the scope of the museum, to find more ways to introduce fans to the work we are doing."

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

If you go

TIMES OF GREATNESS

Where -- Oriole Park

When -- Tomorrow, 4-7 p.m.; Saturday, 3:45-5 p.m.

What -- Collection of memorabilia and interactive media from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

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