Playing the field at the National Negro Leagues Museum

One thing about me: I LOVE BASEBALL! My dad is a massive sports fan and when the New York Mets won the 1986 World Series someone gifted him with the commemorative VCR tape. It featured behind the scenes making of their “Let’s Go Mets Go” music video, as well as interviews with players, footage from big games during the season and celebrity Mets fans talking heads. I don’t know why I loved it so much but for a span of time as a six/seven year old, I watched that video every day. I still know the words to “Let’s Go Mets Go.” But alas, Derek Jeter came on the scene ten years later and I was like “Mets, who? Sorry to this team.”

Regardless of my youthful fickle allegiances, I still ride for any New York teams but I especially love baseball. People say it’s boring, the games are long (but football games aren’t?!), it’s for white people, Black folks don’t play baseball, etc. While I’ll concede that it might be boring to watch at home, I refuse to hear anyone say that it’s a white sport and not for us. It’s 100% facts that baseball is a cost prohibitive sport for many young African-Americans and thus our young folks are often not able to get scouted or make it to the professional level. However when you learn about the rich history of African-Americans and baseball, it’s hard not to have pride and respect for this part of our American history and legacy.

I visited Kansas City for the first time in 2008 for work and decided to stay an extra day to visit the jazz museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which are located in the same building. They are both located in the historic district of 18th and Vine, once a thriving African-American community where the first musicians union was established. I didn’t know much about the Negro Leagues at the time except that because of segregation, ahem racism, in the early to mid 1900s Black players were prohibited from playing on major league baseball teams. Mainstream history presents Jackie Robinson as thee Black baseball player without offering much about the Negro Leagues or even his predecessor, Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, who played in the major leagues in 1884. Respectfully, I wanted to know more about the other men who paved the way for #42 and to be in the birthplace of his Negro League team, the Kansas City Monarchs.

One of the main things I took away from that first trip to the museum is that baseball was at the center of African-American communities in the early to mid 1900s. Folks would gather to watch the games together, everyone in the family could go spent time together and with others in the community. It was a place to hang out, cheer on your squad, build with each other. The players were looked up to the community and served their folks. I’d never thought of baseball games that way — nowadays it’s more corporate and expensive.

I returned to Kansas City and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 2020 right before COVID became really real and I was thrilled to see how much it had grown. While it’s still a small space, there were sections dedicated to women and Latino players in the Negro Leagues, an excellent short documentary and more artifacts to investigate. And you can even walk on the “field” which honors Negro League legends with statues at each position. There’s so much to see and if you’re a nerd like me, you’ll want to give yourself a few hours to read everything and take pics.

The entrance fee is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors 65 and over, and $6 for kids ages 5-12. Make sure to check their website for revised hours due to COVID and to get your tickets online. Just like the baseball games of our ancestors, it’s a family friendly activity and pays homage to the beauty and depth of African-American history.

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