KANSAS CITY -- Zion Spearman knew the basics of Negro Leagues history, that Jackie Robinson and many others battled unwavering oppression to play the game they loved. But after touring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City on Sunday, that knowledge expanded tenfold.Along with 59 other high school baseball
KANSAS CITY -- Zion Spearman knew the basics of Negro Leagues history, that Jackie Robinson and many others battled unwavering oppression to play the game they loved. But after touring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City on Sunday, that knowledge expanded tenfold.
Along with 59 other high school baseball players, Spearman visited the museum as part of the Breakthrough Series, a four-day program sponsored by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that provides instruction and exposure for players from underserved communities across the country.
Spearman cherished the chance to dig into the history of the league he had been exposed to in the past.
"It's very interesting because you get to see all the great players that you don't know about," said Spearman, an outfielder from Philadelphia, Pa. "Like for example, you hear Jackie Robinson all the time, but you don't hear the people that paved the way for him."
The tour began with museum president Bob Kendrick walking the group around the venue's mock field set up with statues of legendary Negro Leagues players, stopping and telling a story about each player at each position.
The crowd laughed at James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell's nickname, listened in awe at the marvel of Josh Gibson's 84-home run season and stood in disbelief as Kendrick told stories of Satchel Paige, and how his fastball was once clocked at 105 mph.
"Wait, what?" one voice called out in shock.
Tales like these and the accompanying wealth of information and pictures that lined the walls opened the players' eyes to not only an intriguing chapter of baseball history, but also the importance of how lucky they are to play in an age where such struggles are just history, and no longer reality.
"You don't want to waste the opportunity," Spearman said. "They paved the way for you. Some of these players didn't even get the chance to make it, but they were good enough to make it."
The young players will only be in Kansas City for four days, but they won't soon forget what they saw at the museum. It won't be remembered just as a fun day trip, but will also serve as inspiration.
"It's absolutely amazing, actually, just the whole experience here in Kansas City," said Emanuel Dean, an outfielder from Anaheim, Calif. "Just bringing us here, it gave me a whole new perspective on baseball. It fuels me and motivates me to be even better as a baseball player."
Dean sees the experience as an opportunity to provide the same motivation he gained at the museum to others down the line.
"There's talent everywhere," Dean said. "I think everybody can play the game of baseball no matter what color you are. It motivates me to just get better and get in the Major Leagues hopefully, if God puts that in my heart, and just to motivate as many African-Americans and anybody who wants to play this game."
Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com.