DeShields pays tribute to Negro Leagues

August 16th, 2020

It’s easy to get excited for your birthday, but Indians outfielder has another reason to celebrate on his 28th birthday on Sunday.

Major League Baseball is honoring the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues by having all players, managers, coaches and umpires wear a commemorative patch on their uniforms during Sunday’s games. It’s a time to draw attention to the historic league, one that DeShields has held close to his heart since he was a young child.

“[My parents] made sure that I knew that we had our own league back in the day,” DeShields said. “These Negro League players, they were my idols growing up. They were guys I looked up to and wanted to be like, so it’s really cool that we’re celebrating the Negro Leagues this year.

“[Sunday] is my birthday, so ... the stars are kind of aligning with this day specifically. ... I'm glad that I'm playing baseball during the 100-year anniversary. It is extremely special.”

The patches on the jerseys are temporary, but the markings DeShields tattooed on his skin to honor his idols are permanent. Six weeks ago, the outfielder took to social media to show his respect for the 100-year celebration by posting pictures of the detailed artwork of the players he looked up to like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and “Cool Papa” Bell.

“I wanted it to be a conversation starter because I feel like when I talk about my idols, people don't know who these guys are, and to me, they’re superheroes,” DeShields said. “And I wanted kids -- Black kids -- to know that African Americans had their own baseball league, and that they were really good. And I know it's not talked about a lot, but with the decline in African Americans in baseball, I thought it was important to kind of get that message out there and hopefully inspire somebody to start playing baseball and dream big of making it to the big leagues.”

The number of African American baseball players is lower than DeShields would like, but he believes MLB’s initiatives like the RBI programs are helping get more children of color involved in the game. But he also thinks players like himself can have just as much of an impact.

“It’s going to take African Americans that are in the game right now to speak out and go into those communities,” DeShields said, “and really help elevate them and get them the proper fields and equipment and stuff to actually go out there and enjoy it. ... A lot of parents can't afford to have their kids play travel ball. So I think just doing those things and just giving African American kids more opportunity to go out and play baseball year-round is very crucial, in my opinion.”

In a time when racism has been brought to the forefront of the country’s attention, DeShields has stated that he doesn’t want this conversation to go away. This is a time when people can listen and learn about the lives and history of those who come from a different background. And one place that DeShields recommended to go to do just that is the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.

“I went a couple of years ago by myself,” DeShields said. “It was very inspirational to me, especially knowing all the things that these guys went through, you know, through Jim Crow and through racism. Back in the day, a lot of these guys didn't get the opportunity to play in the big leagues because they were Black -- even though they could probably play with or outplay a lot of guys that were in Major League Baseball at the time.

“So, it’s one of those things where I just I feel for them in that sense, and the guys that did make it to the big leagues obviously had a huge impact on the sport. ... [The museum is a] super cool experience. Even if you're not Black, I encourage you to go.”