My Favorite Baseball Player

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James O. Walton, (my Dad), in in the second row on the right.

I was born in 1944, at the height of World War II.  My father was in the army and stationed in France at the time.  For my first two years, I lived with my mother and her parents. I had 3 parents that loved me.  When my Dad came home, I was two years old.   it took me a while to understand that I now had 4 parents in my everyday world.

My weekends were spent watching my Dad play baseball.  I loved this time. There were loads of excited people watching the games.  However, I looked forward to the hotdogs and water ice more than the game.  His team was the North Glenside Stars. They were considered a minor league of the Negro National League. They played on the weekends and worked during the week to support their families.  I thought they were great even though I am not sure who won each game.  I just knew that by Daddy was respected on third base and had a powerful bat swing. Most important to me is that the players spoiled me. Sometimes after a game they would celebrate at Tom’s Bar and I got to eat pretzels and drink soda while sitting on the bar.  

Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Jackie Robinson were common names at my home but so were Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis.  I never met any of them but I sure knew a lot about them. Listening to the baseball players talk while having a beer, was better than reading a history book.  The names, exuded a sense of pride in my community. I had never heard of Moses Fleetwood Walker and Bud Fowler, who were among the first to participate in the White Leagues. Few folks know that “Jim Crow” laws forced them from their teams way back in 1900. So, black players formed their own units, “barnstorming” around the country to play anyone who would challenge them.  I heard the name of Rube many times and had no idea who he was.  In my later years I did some research and found that in 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster and some fellow team owners came together to create the Negro National League.

When rival leagues formed in the eastern and southern states, what was called Negro Baseball entered well known urban and urban centers in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. It was important that the leagues maintained a high level of professional decorum.   Their reputation earned them a respect in the economic development in segregated black communities.

 Then came Jackie Robinson.  He became a household word when he was recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  I remember  the community celebrated.  There was toasting everywhere.  It is sad that Robinson was challenged constantly on and off the field.  My Dad and his fellow players followed the news about him religiously.   It is amazing how he was able to stand the ridicule and racism. I guess he was the perfect man for the job of knocking down those walls of segregation.  The sad point of his success was the decline of the Negro Leagues. The original leagues had started in the 1800s and folded in the 1960s.

I only thought that my Dad played baseball for fun and exercise.  Many years later I learned that his involvement in sports was serious and that one day he hoped to make a living doing something he loved.  Those in the major teams were professional because they played ball for a living.  Other players like my Dad, did not make a living by playing baseball.  They had jobs during the week, practiced during the week but played ball on the week-ends.

As a result of his interest, in junior high school I played on a girls’ softball team as the pitcher; the High School girls’ hockey team as the left full back and goalie and the college girls’ basketball team as the traveling guard.  Visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY was such a soul filled experience.  When I got to the area dedicated to the Negro National League, I choked in awe and I even think a tear appeared in the corner of one eye.  My next sports trip will be to visit the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.  My daughter-in-law toured the museum searching for my Dad’s team’s name, to no avail.   

My Dad, a special guy, multifaced. This experience of watching him play ball enriched my life. I am proud to be his daughter!

Sandra is the proud mother of two and grandmother of 5.  She is a retired educator who was the neighborhood child who gather the children on the block and forced them to play school.Sandra graduated from Cheyney University of PA, with a BA in Elementary EducationMontclair University with a MA in Education; Beaver College (Arcadia University), with a MA in Humanities (with a concentration in Fine Arts); and Temple University, with a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary Education with Minor in Communications.  

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