There’s nothing like a major league baseball clubhouse! Thirty-five high school players shared the visitors side at US Cellular Field for the 8th annual Double Duty Classic. They all had one thing in common….a dream to one day enter a clubhouse as a big leaguer! They were provided with a golden opportunity Wednesday afternoon as the scouts got to see some great baseball. I’m sure Minnie Minoso and Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe would be proud. (He was nicknamed “Double Duty” because he played pitcher and catcher in successive games of a doubleheader in the 1932 Negro League World Series)
Hosted by the Chicago White Sox, the Double Duty Classic is a showcase that celebrates the history and tradition of Negro League baseball in Chicago and promoting the next generation of inner city players. They come from the Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) program headed by the Director of Youth Initiative and former Simeon star Kevin Coe. Players were dressed in retro East-West All-Star uniforms honoring past Negro Leaguers and those who played in the historic game at Old Comiskey Park. (Jackie Robinson played in 1945 as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs)
There was a special forum held before the game in the Conference Center. It was hosted by sports reporter Julian “JR” Jackson who is featured on CNN’s HLN and JRSportBrief. Special guests at the forum included former White Sox All-Star pitcher James Baldwin, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick, ESPN analyst and Chicagoan Michael Wilbon and the White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams. Baldwin had one thing to say to the kids…”play the game hard with no regrets, understand it and be professional in your approach. It will give you everything back.”
Michael Wilbon echoed the same sentiments and talked about his days growing up playing baseball in the inner city. “I was about 14 years old and I was on the mound feeling good. I threw my best stuff and this short stubby kid had to hit my pitch about 400 yards. That kid turned out to be Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. That’s when I knew my career was over!”
Bob Kendrick has helped restore the Negro League Baseball Museum’s reputation. It features multi-media computer stations, film exhibits, photographs, bronze sculptures and baseball artifacts. He spoke on how the Negro Leagues helped make baseball the global game that it is. “They would play in Japan and the Spanish leagues for the competition. He also stated that “shin guards and night games started in the Negro Leagues.”
Kenny Williams said something I knew resonated with the players. “Don’t take the opportunity for granted because many people before you never had it.” The panel took a few questions from the players, there was a quick lunch and then it was game time.
The Minnie Minoso MVP Award presented by Minnie’s wife Sharon and son Charlie was given to Najee Gaskins who plays at Cienega High in Vail, Arizona. He finished the game 2 for 4 with 2 walks, 3 rbi’s, 3 stolen bases and 2 runs scored. For Mt. Carmel junior standout Jeremy Houston (who committed to Indiana U), this game meant everything to him. “It’s such an honor to play in this game. Learning the history of the Negro Leagues and everything they went through for us to be here means the world to me.”