Playing in Rickwood Game 'means the world' to Ozzie protégé Winn

June 18th, 2024

Long before was drafted by the Cardinals and started electrifying fans with his acrobatic plays and powerful throwing arm, his stepfather, Earl Luckett, entertained him with stories about , recommending that he watch YouTube videos featuring the Hall of Fame shortstop’s handiwork.

What Winn saw from Smith’s highlights was jaw-dropping. Imagine Winn’s delight when, after the Cardinals drafted him in 2020, Smith invited him to dinner and offered to be a mentor.

“It’s fantastic,” Winn said. “You know, my stepdad obviously put me onto a lot of Black players, not just Ozzie. But now that I’m a Cardinal and with Ozzie being very significant in this organization, it’s super important and super special to have him around. I always want to be able to represent myself with Ozzie in mind.”

Luckett, a former baseball player at Houston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, taught Winn much of what he knows about baseball history. That’s why Winn is hopeful that Luckett and his mother, Tiffany Rawson, can attend the MLB at Rickwood Field Game on June 20 -- when the Cardinals will face the Giants at the former home of the Birmingham Black Barons -- to celebrate some of the greatest African-American players in the game’s history.

Winn, who is approaching the season’s halfway point as a top candidate for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, talked about the importance of honoring Negro Leagues legends who paved the way for him. (The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.) How special will it be for you to play in the Rickwood Game?

Winn: It means the world to me, and to my stepdad, who came into my life early on and taught me about the history of Black baseball players and their significance in our community. He told me about what it means to represent the African-American community. So playing in this game, it’s going to be amazing. Who were some of your stepfather’s favorite players?

Winn: His favorite player was Hank Aaron, because he always talks about watching that record-breaking [715th] homer. Ozzie, of course. And he loves Barry Bonds. After you got drafted, how long did it take you to learn about the rich history of African-American players in the Cardinals organization?

Winn: I knew about Ozzie and Lou [Brock] when I was drafted. But the more I’ve been in the organization, I’ve learned so much more about some of the other players. There’s such a rich history in this organization with Black players. I consider myself lucky to play for the Cardinals. Have you thought about how there might be a 10-year-old African-American kid out there who doesn’t have baseball in his life, but he wants to play after seeing you?

Winn: Jordan [Walker] and I have talked about that a lot. Especially in the St. Louis community, where there’s such a big Black population, we feel we can have a big impact. In the Black community, usually it’s more about basketball and football, but we’ve got to get more African-American kids playing baseball. It would be super cool to be an inspiration to others. Being able to look up to so many people while I was growing up, I want to show these other Black kids that it’s fun playing baseball. The last couple of years, Willie McGee and Smith took you and Jordan to dinner during Spring Training. How meaningful was that?

Winn: It was great. Just seeing how they treated people off the field was amazing. I never got to see Ozzie play, but watching how he interacted and talked to people was special. The waiter comes up and they’re super respectful to everyone. I feel that’s how to tell how great a person is -- how they treat people. Watching those guys and being around them, it just reminds you that they’re living legends.