It’s February and with February comes Spring Training (still and always dreaming of getting an invitation) and my annual reading of one of my favorite books, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball. I am thankful for the time I get to spend with Buck O’Neil in these pages remembering the power of hope, a genuine love for people, and a passion for the game can make a difference to others. The ending chokes me up every single time. It was through this book that I first met Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in downtown Kansas City.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is an incredible venue of history and priceless artifacts. In 2018, there is a full slate of activities and events occurring at the NLBM:
- The Women of the Negro Leagues, opening on 2/13
- The Press Box Theater featuring the stories of Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy, and Lester Rodney
- The Barrier Breaker exhibit detailing the chronology of the complete integration of the game over the course of 12 years.
- An augmented reality addition, telling stories by video of the players on the Field of Legends
- The Hall of Game and The Hot Dog Festival and so much more.
Outside of the museum, these important stories have been highlighted through a brilliant event at Royals games each May for the last few seasons — Dressed to the Nines Day and Salute to the Negro Leagues. On this special day, the teams on the field wear throwback uniforms of the Negro Leagues teams, the Royals always repping the Monarchs. This year, the game is on May 6 and the Detroit Tigers will be the dressed as the Detroit Stars. Those attending the game are encouraged to wear their Sunday best, coming to the game as if straight from church. I’ve attended this game the past few seasons and it is a remarkable experience.
“I love the spectacle of seeing the tradition passed on to the next generation, seeing kids all dressed up. That really warms my heart,” Bob said.
For the last 15 years, I have been studying and learning about stories — how stories teach empathy, take deep root in our brains, and shape our daily lives. I still have a lot to learn.
Bob Kendrick is one of the best storytellers I know; I could listen to him for hours. He conducts a masterclass in storytelling every time he takes the stage, every time he’s interviewed, every time he leads a tour at the museum. Bob is on my catch-playing bucket list because I selfishly wanted to hear him tell stories while we tossed the ball.
“I was fortunate, blessed really, to learn how to tell stories from one of the best, spending so much time with Buck,” Bob said. “I’d watch Buck tell someone a story he’d told hundreds of time previously, and he would tell it fresh, straight from the heart, just for them. Stories help us connect on a deeply personal level. When I tell stories now, I’m helping keep Buck alive in my heart. When I tell stories, I put all of my heart into it just like Buck did and the biggest compliment I can get is when someone says my stories made them feel like they were there.”
I got a lump in my throat.
I wore my Satchel Paige glove to play catch with Bob and stood next to Satchel on the Field of Legends. Bob stood near Josh Gibson and told me a story of Vin Scully, Bill Veeck, Whitey Herzog, Satchel Paige, and a bet involving a bottle of bourbon. Incredible.
I asked Bob what Buck would think about this crazy catch-playing adventure.
“He would love it. Baseball and what it represented was the center of his universe. This game is about fathers and sons, about family, about passing on traditions and love to the next generation. Buck would’ve played catch every day with someone if he had the opportunity, he loved the game that much. The ideology of playing catch emphasizes everything Buck loves about the game.”
We posed for a picture with Satchel and I invited my daughters to join me.
“I delight in telling these stories because I’m contributing to a legacy that is bigger than just me. The story of these men, these ballplayers, is a story not about the adversity, but about everything they did to overcome that adversity. These men simply dreamed of playing a game, and they ended up making history. Their passion, their dedication, their courage not only changed the game, but it changed the country.”