Tropical Storm Gordon was a faithful travel companion all the way to Kansas City. Wind and rain and heavy clouds were interrupted by the rhythmic clicking of the windshield wipers. I stopped at the halfway point to check messages only to receive heavy and heart-breaking news. Mighty Miles, whose courageous story represented the state of Nebraska in America at the Seams, is on hospice care. His last breath will be much too soon. Lord, have mercy on his family.
Shortly after getting back in the van and resuming the northbound driving portion of the trip I spotted a bald eagle sitting in a tree, seemingly daring the winds to move him from his post. As I neared downtown KC, the tops of the skyscrapers disappeared into the clouds. My beloved Royals, however, aren’t in town. They’re playing (and losing 2 – 0) in Minnesota as I write this story. I drove to KC to spend an afternoon with a few baseball legends.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was hosting its 75th reunion in KC. Perry the Umpire and Mary the middle infielder and designated Canadian from A League of Their Own (Day #152) were going to be in my neck of the woods.
I drove to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on 18th and Vine and waited for the baseball legends to show up. Dressed in a stunning blue-checked suit, glossy wingtips, and matching fedora, NLBM President Bob Kendrick (Day #34) greeted me with a hug and handshake moments after I walked in the doors. At Perry’s request, I asked if he would share the Vin Scully, Whitey Herzog, and Satchel Paige story with the group. The stories he tells and the lessons he shares how baseball provided a way to fight racism, hate, and violence need to be broadcast nationally.
Perry and Mary unboarded the bus along with a couple dozen other ballplayers. Bob greeted the ballplayers and their families and friends in the large atrium between the NLBM and the Jazz Museum with stories of Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige. I forgot that the last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, 1948, was Satchel’s rookie year in the MLB. He closed with the story for Perry; everyone loved it.
Touring the NLBM with the women of the AAGPBL and listening to Bob’s stories is surely a glimpse of heaven on earth.
About half way through the tour, I entered Buck O’Neil’s name on one of the interactive displays. Along with his birth name, John Jordan, was listed another name, “Nancy.” I laughed as soon as a saw it.
Perry looked at me and asked, “Nancy?”
(Side note: Alex Gordon just tied the game! Would absolutely love to play catch with him!)
I feared asking too many questions or being a distraction. After Bob shared the stories behind the new Beauty of the Game exhibit featuring the ladies who played in the Negro Leagues — Connie Morgan, Toni Stone, and Mamie Johnson — there was a break in the tour. I asked if he could share the Nancy story.
(Side note: Alex Gordon just scored. The Royals are winning!)
Knowing the ending, I couldn’t keep a straight face the entire time Bob told the story. He did Buck proud.
I spent time looking at Buck’s display just before the Field of Legends, then rested against the outfield fence next to Cool Papa Bell. As I was unpacking my gloves from my backpack, Mary walked by. It was her first trip to the museum, her first trip to Kansas City.
“Are you interested in another game of catch?”
We positioned ourselves between Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson on the Field of Legends. She started with the new Wilson, then switched to the old one after a few throws. And then Terry joined us.
(Side note: Salvy Perez just homered! The Royals are winning 6 – 2!)
Terry McKinley Uselmann is an outfielder from Chicago and Notre Dame fan. She played one season with the Muskegon Lassies and told a hilarious story about being fined $2 in her first game.
“I was fined the first dollar for bunting, then another dollar for stealing a base. The coach hadn’t given me any signs or said anything to me!”
As the three of us played catch surrounded by legends both bronze and living, several people took pictures and recorded videos, but no one else joined in. It was incredible to play catch for a second time this year on that wonderful field. Before I could put my gloves away, several players tried on the old Wilson glove and smiled, “This feels just like mine used to.”
Bob concluded the tour talking through the highlights of the statues and finished with stories from the 1942 Negro Leagues World Series. I was glad to be wearing my 1942 Negro League Champions KC Monarchs t-shirt.
Even through the worst of adversity, when people didn’t think they were good enough, being judged by gender or race or both, the ballplayers of the NLBM and the AAGPBL are still teaching us plenty through this greatest of games.
(Side note: The game is now tied, 6 – 6. That’s baseball.)
Before I left, I had to get a picture of Perry with umpire Bob Motley!