Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Inaugural Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game

I had the pleasure of attending tonight's Civil Rights Game with my wife and my best friend. It was a great night for baseball, even though it had been raining and nearly flooding all day. For some reason, though, God looked down on Memphis, decided it was wet enough, and brought out the cool after-rain calm that makes for a great evening of watching baseball.

I love this time of year. Baseball season starts tomorrow, and I'm ready for it to happen. Usually, watching baseball is plenty enough for me. I am the kind of guy who can sit at a ballpark watching two teams I neither know nor care about and be sublimely happy about it. If I have such a thing as a place of zen, a baseball park would be that place. Tonight was a one-up on all of that, though.

It's not every day that Major League Baseball comes to Memphis. We do have a Triple A team that I think is pretty great, and a ballpark that is probably the best minor league ballpark anywhere. Yet somehow, we have to drive six hours to the closest major league park. So you have to expect a lot of excitement when the St. Louis Cardinals come to town to play. This is Cardinal country anyway, and our Triple A team is the Memphis Redbirds, home to many former and future Cardinals, including Albert Pujols. If you add the Cleveland Indians into that mix, you have a good night of baseball in a town that doesn't get to see the Bigs much.

Rest easy in the knowledge that I still wore the paraphernalia of the Chicago Cubs, who I will always root for. That aside, though, I did have to root for the Cardinals win this National League vs. American League exhibition game. My wife, who is from Ohio, decided to cheer for the Cleveland Indians. We haven't drawn up the divorce papers yet.

In any case, this was no regular game. This was the first ever Civil Rights game, and EVERYBODY was there. Spike Lee, who would win an award later on in the night, premiered his new documentary on Blacks in Baseball right there for us on the stadium Jumbotron. When it came time to perform the national anthem, none other than Patti LaBelle stepped up to the microphone to put her own twist on the Star Spangled Banner. One of the ministers that worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. threw out the first pitch. Roberto Clemente's wife, Spike Lee, and Buck O'Neil were presented with awards for their contributions to the cause of civil rights. Commissioner Bud Selig was there. The National Civil Rights Museum Choir performed "America the Beautiful" during the 7th Inning Stretch, after which The Cheetah Girls from Disney sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Oh...and there's these two guys you might have heard of by the name of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen... Pujols did his hometown fans a favor by belting one onto The Bluff in the second inning. Home runs are always nice. Oh, and the game was broadcast on ESPN, and we were on TV.

Most importantly, though, the game centered around Civil Rights. It's good to be reminded sometimes how a silly little thing like racism once divided people and from time to time even still rears its ugly head. Tonight's game drove that point home. Baseball was always at the forefront of integration. And the game itself is such a pure thing that it really doesn't matter if you're black, white, Asian, Australian or whatever race you might be.

I had the privilege of sitting next to a man who was from South Africa and who didn't understand all the nuances of the game. There, in the friendly confines of the ballpark, two people who grew up very differently were able to share conversation about a game that unifies us all.

It was a beautiful night. Really.

(pictures taken by to enlarge)


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