With help, future could look even brighter for Day's grandson

April 12, 2009|By David Steele

Leon Day would not have minded seeing his grandson with a baseball in his hand. A book in his hand, however, would have impressed him more.

"He always told us: 'Pick up a book and read. Get an education; they can't take that away from you. Knowledge is power,' " recalled Sarah Newkirk Clark, the daughter of the Hall of Fame pitcher and Negro league legend.

Clark's 15-year-old son, Leon Day Newkirk, seems to have absorbed the lesson. He frequently picks up and reads honor-roll certificates, academic awards, college scholarship offers, and, last month, an invitation to attend the annual National Young Leaders Conference this summer on Capitol Hill.

"I saw it," said Newkirk, a ninth-grader at Catonsville High, "and I wanted to make sure I didn't get it by mistake. I thought, 'Is there another Leon Newkirk in this school?' "

There appears not to be - none who excels in math and science, plays trumpet, is active in his church, draws well enough to consider a career in animation, and could not remember his last "C." Or who does this despite struggling to hear or speak until age 3 because of a bout with meningitis as an infant.

Basically, Newkirk - who was a year old when his namesake died in 1995, just six days after his selection to Cooperstown - does everything except follow Day's footsteps into sports.

"I'm allergic to just about everything," he acknowledged.

The invitation to the leadership conference, however, brought to mind something his grandmother, Day's widow, Geraldine, had said before.

"A lot of gifted people get pushed aside - they're gifted, but they don't have the financial resources," she said recently, as she sat with her daughter and grandson in their Southwest Baltimore County apartment. "But by the grace of God, this one won't be pushed aside."

The obstacle, as is the case with many scholastic-achievement programs, is money. The 10 days of lodging, transportation and meals at the young leaders conference - a product of the nonpartisan, independent Congressional Youth Leadership Council, based in Northern Virginia - cost $2,240. The initial deposit of $350 is due Friday, the rest May 1.

Clark, however, is on disability because of health problems, and Day lives on Social Security and supplements from the Baseball Assistance Team. The long-delayed pension for Negro leaguers her husband started receiving late in life ended with his death. Plus, the lengthy wait for Leon Day to get into the Hall of Fame cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars from autographs, tours and other appearances he never got to make as an official member.

A little more justice here and there and Day's survivors certainly wouldn't be, as Geraldine Day put it only half-jokingly, "begging everybody" to get his studious grandson to a national leadership conference.

The deposit appears to be in hand, thanks to her reaching out to family, church members and other Hall of Famers. A Leon Day memorabilia booth at the Orioles' FanFest at Camden Yards last weekend raised more than $200, and family friend and local radio host Bob Hieronimus pledged to match that amount. Still, the balance of nearly $2,000 remains, with less than three weeks left to raise it.

Thus, three-quarters of a century after circumstances denied Leon Day the opportunity he was due, Leon Day Newkirk faces the same fate in a different field.

Not if his grandmother can help it: "God knows he's not going to slip through the cracks."

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1370 AM.

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