Renovated Doby playground opens in Cleveland

July 3rd, 2019

CLEVELAND -- A young Rich Starr sat in the audience during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Larry Doby All-Star Playground at King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club in Cleveland in 1997.

It was the first of many projects to come for Major League Baseball’s new All-Star Legacy initiative, and all Starr could focus on was breaking through the tape to rush onto the Club’s new playset.

Fast forward 22 years later and it’s Starr’s turn to hold the ribbon.

Starr, now the director of the King Kennedy Club and athletic director for all 13 of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Cleveland, stood alongside Larry Doby Jr. on Wednesday, to unveil the newly-renovated playground as part of the 2019 All-Star Legacy initiative.

“We couldn’t get off of the playground,” Starr said, remembering when it first opened in ’97. “From our parents yelling our names, from the staff saying it’s time to go, to them saying the playground is closed, they wanted us to have our own safe haven, our own place to be a kid and not to worry about anything.”

It was an initiative that began to benefit local communities, tied together with the host city of the 2019 Midsummer Classic. Since 1997, MLB and host All-Star clubs have donated over $90 million dollars to Legacy and community projects in cities around America. But it was time to bring it back to where it all began: a playground created to honor and remember Cleveland legend Larry Doby.

“Certainly baseball has a history to it,” MLB’s vice president of social responsibility Melanie LeGrande said. “And the history to it would not be complete without Larry Doby. He was a wonderful figure that paved the way for so many other players, and the legacy that he’s left and the legacy we’ll have here for these kids to play on will be tremendous.

“Twenty-two years ago, we were here and unveiled this first playground. So, it’s been amazing to work with all the clubs for 22 years and have these unveilings of certain projects. The fact that we’re coming back home is very special to all of us.”

The ceremony was held on Wednesday, the 72nd anniversary of the day Doby signed his contract with the Indians. The guest list included Indians owner and CEO Paul Dolan, executive vice president Dennis Lehman, Mayor Frank G. Jackson, Senator Sherrod Brown and, of course, Doby’s son, Larry Jr.

“It’s always special when they remember [my dad], but it’s more special when it’s in Cleveland,” Doby said. “Because this is the place where he got his start. This is the place that opened their arms and accepted him, treated him well and was one of the major factors in his success.”

Brown took the podium and reminisced about the times he watched Doby Sr. play in person. The Hall-of-Fame outfielder debuted in 1947 with the Indians -- after previously serving his country in World War II -- and ended his career in '59 with the White Sox. He broke the color barrier in the American League, just 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson in April of ’47.

“He had a bunch of people that supported him and gave him an opportunity and were there for him through the tough times,” Doby Jr. said. “I think one of the things that is often forgotten about his struggles here was that Jackie Robinson was in New York City and everybody’s eyes and papers and stuff were around what he did. In Cleveland, it was kind of an afterthought. The same things went on.”

To never forget Doby’s legacy, the Larry Doby All-Star Playground was updated with new equipment and refurbished flooring, to support the 1,000 children who turn to a Boys & Girls Club in each day in the city that was the first to back and accept Doby.

“I hope the playground gets a lot of use,” Doby Jr. said. “It’s beautiful and hopefully it’s safe and the Boys & Girls Club continues to affect youth in a good way.”