Culture, Feature Story

Honoring the Greats at the Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon

On Friday, June 8th, I attended the Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon at Comerica Park. The special luncheon was sponsored by Comerica Bank and the invitees included former Negro Leagues players, former Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter, and select community leaders from Metro Detroit. It was a lovely luncheon and I was happy to have been included in the celebration.

When I arrived at Comerica Park, I got a little lost trying to find the Tiger’s Club. After getting directions, I ran into a former Negro Leagues baseball player who was also trying to find the Tiger’s Club. I told him I was also headed to the luncheon and we walked together and chatted a little bit about baseball.

The former baseball player was accompanied by his grandchildren and he told me his daughter would also attend the Negro Leagues Weekend celebration. I honestly never caught the man’s name, but he did tell me he was 85-years-old. He was very chatty and happy to talk a little bit about baseball and his family.

Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon
Former Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter with former Detroit Star baseball players at the Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon.

Talking with him reminded me so much of my own father who is 80-years-old. My parents like to tell me stories about their life and their time in the Army. I’ve noticed the older I get, the more I enjoy listening to my parents tell me their life stories. It’s like reading a history book only your parents are telling you where they were during significant moments in history, like the time I asked my dad if he remembered where he was when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

When you’re younger, you don’t realize the importance of your parents’ life stories. I think sometimes we take it for granted. Then when you’re older, you start to understand and treasure your family history.

It’s kind of like celebrating and honoring the Negro Leagues. It is a part of our history that should be celebrated because it is a reminder of a time our country was racially divided. The African American baseball players who played for the Negro Leagues helped pave the way for minorities who now play the sport for the MLB, college baseball, and even little league baseball.

“See, more than 100 years ago, when African-Americans and dark-skinned Latin Americans and others were denied the right to play in the Majors, they created their own league. They kept that league going, through sheer will and innovation and baseball brilliance, for decades, through Jim Crow, through a Great Depression, through a World War, all the way until Jackie Robinson and then beyond, for 15 more years, until every big league team had a black player.” — Joe Posnanski, Executive Columnist for MLB.com from “Legacy of Negro Leagues Forever Profound”

 

Former Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter Honored at Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon

During the legacy luncheon Q&A, former Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter shared how baseball has had a great impact on his life. He grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas where, according to Torii, 75% of the population live below the poverty line. “It’s a tough area to be in,” the baseball player said about Pine Bluff. Torii credits baseball for his success in life, and he wants to give African American children and other minority children the same opportunities he had.

“Baseball is life. Life is baseball,” Torii said during the Q&A. “Baseball has given me a lot of failures in life. Life has given me a lot of failures in life. I made adjustments like crazy in baseball because if you don’t make those adjustments you’re going to be at home and not playing the game anymore.”

Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon
Torii Hunter at the Q&A session during the Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon.

Torii went on to say life is comparable to baseball. Just like a player must learn from the mistakes he/she makes in the game, the same is true in life. You must learn from the failures you experience in life or as Torii puts it, “You’re going to be sitting at home on the bench on the sidelines. So baseball gives you great life lessons. That’s why we call it, ‘Baseball is life. Life is baseball.’ The failures that you make you actually learn from them.”

“Accept failures and learn from it,” Torii said, “and make adjustments from there and if you don’t make those adjustments you won’t survive at either one.”

Torii was also presented with the 2018 Detroit Tigers Willie Horton African American Legacy Award at the luncheon. 

Negro Leagues Luncheon Detroit
Torii Hunter and one of the former team members of the Detroit Star from the Negro Leagues chat at the Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon.

 

Comerica Bank Donates $20,000 to the Hamtramck Stadium

Another big announcement was also announced during the luncheon. Comerica Bank and Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium (FHHS) announced Comerica is the first corporate sponsor for the Stadium’s renovation. Comerica Bank presented a $20,000 check to FHHS at the Detroit Tigers Negro Leagues Tribute game on Saturday, June 9th.

“Hamtramck Stadium has played a significant role in the history of the region. As one of only a handful of remaining Negro League ballparks, the site is an important reminder of African American history here in Metropolitan Detroit and across the country,” said Michael T. Ritchie, president, Comerica Bank-Michigan.

“We’re honored to support this project and we hope our commitment inspires other organizations to help preserve this historic stadium and for the community to enjoy and remember the contributions of great Negro League players like Norman “Turkey” Stearnes, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige for generations to come.”

Currently, patrons use the Hamtramck Stadium for playing cricket, soccer, yoga, and other recreational activities. Unfortunately, the condition of the diamond is not suitable for baseball. The grandstands are closed to the public and have not been used since the 1990s.

Negro Leagues Legacy Luncheon

On the preservation of the Hamtramck Stadium, Gary Gilette, President of FHHS:

“The Stadium represents one of five remaining locations where major Negro League teams once played home games and represents a historic period in the Detroit community. As a field that’s welcomed at least 18 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Stadium deserves the preservation efforts and attention it’s beginning to receive. We look forward to completing this project for both the Hamtramck and Detroit communities.”

Comerica Bank is very community-driven. The bank has also sponsored other initiatives at Comerica Park, Little Caesars Arena, Ford Field, and Detroit PAL’s new headquarters and athletic facilities at The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient.

Comerica Bank also supported FHHS in securing and installing a Michigan Historic Marker at Hamtramck Stadium. The historic marker will ensure the Stadium will not be demolished. It is located at the western end of Veterans Memorial Park at Joseph Campau near the monument to Colonel Hamtramck.

 

If you’d like to learn more about the Hamtramck Stadium or make a donation, you can visit the official website here and the Facebook page here.

 

 

Also, check out Detroit Lions’ Tight End Luke Wilson Surprises Detroit Students at Microsoft Store’s STEM Workshop and #FinalThoughts: When God Gives You That Yes.

 

All photographs are courtesy of Franco PR.

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