MEMPHIS, Tennessee – The second annual Civil Rights Game was for the second year threatened by rain in the Memphis and outlying areas, but despite the damp weather the New York Mets return to Shea Stadium with a 3-2 victory of Ozzie Guillen and the Chicago White Sox.
Now, enough of the official news story. You can get that anywhere. Instead, I’m going to take you all through the game, the experience, and what the Civil Rights Game is all about – to African American baseball players, to baseball in general, and to me.
As I arrived in Memphis, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, just another crazy weather day in the southern part of the United States. I’m used to it, living in Arkansas and all. After the two hour drive to reach Memphis, I was happy to see some civilization (it’s a very boring drive). As we drove over the very, very flooded Mississippi River and passed the somewhat now unused Pyramid, something hit me. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it was definitely something. It could be the excitement that precedes every baseball game I go to, it could be the realization that baseball season is just about to begin, it could be the fact that for the second straight year I’m enjoying one of baseball’s most meaningful games, or it could be the fact that I realized just how meaningful this game is.
As you see at the top of this post, there is a picture of the AutoZone Park entrance. AutoZone is the home of the Cardinals’ AAA team, the Memphis Redbirds. That may explain why I was decked out in my Cardinals jacket and cap headed to the game. Regardless, just like last year, as I entered the front gates to the ballpark, adrenaline ran through my veins. This is baseball, and today, we’re honoring the players who helped integrate the sport. It’s something to celebrate and realize every day, but putting aside the Civil Rights Game each year is a wonderful way to show baseball’s appreciation.
The picture below is one I snapped as I walked through the front entrance. It was a very neat angle to take this picture from, and I thought it came out well for the cruddy little camera I was using. The rain had slowed just enough for me to take the picture:
Continuing, as I made my way inside, I was greeted by some of the Redbirds’ very friendly workers and emptied my pockets for security. I waited on my best friend, my mother, and my friend’s mother to make it through and then I picked up this year’s lanyard and a game day book, both of which were free (kind of like this new MLBlogs setup, which I happen to LOVE).
Speaking of the lanyard, this is what it looked like:
So we made our way into the ballpark and looked around a bit. I went into the gift shop and came away with an $18 Civil Rights Game t-shirt to commemorate what will likely be the last Civil Rights Game I get to attend (for multiple reasons, but I’ll get to that in a bit). I also bought three seat cushions for $5 a piece (one for myself, one for my friend, and one for my friend’s mom – note: my mother brought a towel to sit on) Then, once we were ready, I made my way to my seats. I sat with my friend in section 103, row H, seats 7 and 8. I’ll you an idea of how good the seats were in a bit, but first, I want to show you what gave me chill bumps when I walked out in the light rain to see an empty stadium.
So, I sat in the rain for a good two hours (seeing as the gates opened at two and the game started at four) and watched as Mets and White Sox fans filtered in. It was interesting to see the number of each team’s fans that would show up and the number of pure, true-to-heart baseball fans that would come to this game. In the end, the number of great, friendly people and pure, true-to-heart baseball fans greatly outnumbered the rabid Mets and White Sox fans. To give you an idea of how wonderful the atmosphere was, I actually smiled and said hi to a man wearing a Chicago Cubs jacket and cap. As I said before, I was fully decked out in St. Louis attire, so that took a lot on both parts not to talk just a little trash…but we didn’t, and that’s because today’s game was more than just a game. It was about honoring those who helped make the game what it is today. And if you think that picture of the Civil Rights Game logo on the jumbotron made me get goose bumps, take a look at this honorary guest.
Blurry as it may be, that man on the far right (just to the right of famous actress Ruby Dee) is Frank Robinson. A wonderful man with a huge heart and a great baseball mind, Frank Robinson was a great representative of the Civil Rights Game. It was a pleasure, an honor, and a wonderful moment to see him only 25 yards away from me accepting a Beacon of Life award on the behalf of Major League Baseball. That is the kind of moment I’ll treasure as a human being and a baseball fan. That is the kind of moment I want to share with you that ESPN really couldn’t put into words today…that is the kind of moment I live for and I couldn’t be happier to have MLBlogs at my fingertips to share it.
I sat down with my friend and we took a few pictures to savor the great time we were having. She isn’t a fan of baseball and doesn’t know much about the sport, but I’ve been trying to teach her and despite the fact that she refuses to watch it on TV, she really enjoyed the game today, which was pretty cool in my book. Anyway, before the game started, the Tennessee State Aristocrat Band came and played several songs in the outfield, and despite the strangeness of hearing band music at a baseball game, it was refreshing and unique. It just added to the experience, really.
By the time 4:00 p.m. central time rolled around, I was ready for some baseball. It had rained and rained and drizzled and dripped and sprinkled til I was at my wit’s end, but just like last year, nothing was keeping the Civil Rights Game from taking place. Sure enough, it only rained one more time during the game, and it lasted a whole three minutes or so. But, just for the sake of enjoying each moment of a baseball game, I snapped this picture of the first pitch thrown by John Maine of the New York Mets to Nick Swisher of the Chicago White Sox. Well, it was about to be thrown, an
yway. And it gives you an idea of how good my seats were.
So, the game went on, and I had to make up my mind who to root for. I used to co-host a radio show and my co-host is a huge Mets fan. I also am good friends with Zack Hample here on MLBlogs, and I know he roots for the Mets when possible, too. Then again, once I was seated and comfortable on my seat cushion, a woman and her young son sat down beside my friend and I. She had driven from Chicago just for this game. She was a pure, true-to-heart baseball fan, although both her and her son were covered in White Sox logos. We talked for about ten minutes just about baseball and the Cardinals and the White Sox and the Mets and the Civil Rights Game and about where we come from and so forth, and that’s something I fail to mention when talking about baseball games – the people are for the most part great. After talking to her, I felt inclined to root for the White Sox, despite my intense dislike for Ozzie Guillen and catcher A.J. Pierzynski (Pierzynski at least lived up to his reputation today, yelling the F-word very loudly after a strikeout early in the game).
I also spoke with a Mets’ fan behind me who had been to every MLB stadium, including a few no longer in existence. He was a great guy, very knowledgeable baseball fan, and I gave him a no-harm-intended jab about Adam Wainwright striking out Carlos Beltran in the ’06 NLCS. It was fun to meet someone like that who had traveled and seen so many baseball games. The only other person I know to have seen as many is the man, Zack Hample.
Continuing, in the Mets’ half of the fourth inning, Beltran himself took Jose Contreras yard for the first runs of the game (the Mets then lead 2-0). I’m not even entirely sure this was the at-bat, but here’s a picture of Beltran at the plate at some point during the game (notice the rain-thinned crowd – only 7,717 showed up for a game that was sold out).
The Mets would end up winning the game 3-2, and despite not knowing exactly who to root for, I knew where my loyalties lied today: with baseball. It’s not a game, it’s the game. And as a fan of all college sports, I will argue up and down that Major League Baseball is the best, most-loved, and truest professional sport there is. Cheaters, liars, and high salaries aside, baseball is America’s Past-time. I love this sport. I live for this.
On a final note, I read on Yahoo! Sports today that those in charge of the Civil Rights Game are considering moving it away from Memphis after this year. I was very – no, extremely – upset upon reading this. Memphis is the true home of the Civil Rights movement. Memphis is where it began. Memphis has that southern hospitality, right-at-home feel that no place else can offer. The staff at AutoZone Park have worked their tails off to make this game a success, and even though the weather affected the crowd the first two years, I can say from my own account that the game was a tremendously positive experience. The fact that it is played at a Minor League ballpark is another big plus, especially with it being as nice as AutoZone. The staff were super-friendly and ultra-helpful. Twice before the game a worker came and used a towel to dry off the seat-backs for my friend and I. You’re not going to get that kind of service at Atlanta or Washington D.C. My voice may not be heard by those who make the decisions, but I wish it would. The Civil Rights Game belongs to those who took part in the Civil Rights movement and those who helped integrate baseball. Memphis was chosen for a reason, and for that reason, the simple approach of “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” should apply here. I would be extremely disappointed if anything to the contrary were to take place.
So, I’m home and blogging again. Baseball season starts Monday, and I’m as excited as I’ve ever been despite the so-called “experts” having no hopes for my Cardinals. I look at it this way, though. The last time the experts went very heavily against the Cardinals, they picked the Tigers to win in three games in the ’06 World Series. The Civil Rights Game means so much to this sport, and this sport means a whole lot to me. I’m headed to bed now, seeing as I have church tomorrow, but I won’t be sleeping off today’s experience. Today, I rooted for human freedom and for the great sport that is baseball. That’s the way it should be.
That’s me and my friend above, just so you guys have an idea of what I look like. Like I said, I live for this. I hope more of you can enjoy the Civil Rights Game in the near future, and I hope it can stay at Memphis, Tennessee, where it belongs. This has been the easiest and most-enjoyable post I’ve done since I started with MLBlogs. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.