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White Sox honor impact of Civil Rights Game

Organization a leader in baseball's efforts to bring game to everyone

CHICAGO -- As a player for 22 years, Harold Baines was known to do most of his talking with the bat while knocking out 2,866 hits and picking up 1,628 RBIs.

Even as an important part of the White Sox coaching staff for the past 10 years, Baines would not exactly be considered verbose.

But it didn't take Baines many words on Saturday to convey the importance of Major League Baseball's seventh Civil Rights Game, hosted this weekend by the White Sox.

"Very important," said the White Sox assistant hitting coach, speaking prior to Saturday night's Civil Rights Game. "A lot of it is paying tribute to the guys who came before us. They should never be forgotten."

Baines was part of the large White Sox contingent attending Saturday morning's Beacon Awards at the Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in Chicago. That group included former standout players such as Frank Thomas, the entire current coaching staff and active roster and members of the front office such as chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn to name a few.

Those players and coaches were unable to watch Bo Jackson receive his Beacon of Life award or watch former Tigers slugger Willie Horton present the Beacon of Change award to Aretha Franklin, who could not attend due to health issues, as they had to depart a little bit early to get prepared for Saturday's 6:20 p.m. CT first pitch.

But they didn't need a great deal of time to sense the impact of the event. They had a chance to see Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Ferguson Jenkins in attendance, not to mention former Negro League players, including White Sox icon Minnie Minoso. They heard the inspirational words from Commissioner Bud Selig and Illinois governor Pat Quinn concerning the strides not just MLB has made in the diversity area but also the country as a whole.

"It's crazy how far the game has come," White Sox closer Addison Reed said. "It will continue to evolve and have more minorities come into the game and get bigger in countries and places that it's not."

"Like they said in the program, we still have a long ways to go," White Sox reliever Donnie Veal said. "You definitely reflect on the past and how far we have come. Definitely have made major improvements."

While the White Sox have a very diverse roster, Veal is the only African-American. Baines spoke of inner-city kids having more options today, while Thomas talked about football and basketball being the "glory sports" of the neighborhood and the need for better facilities to bring the kids back to the diamond.

Manager Robin Ventura was asked about a lost generation of African-American kids, leading to a drop in participatory interest. He put that blame on Michael Jordan's legacy.

"I don't think it's a bad thing for them to look up to [Jordan] and play other sports," Ventura said. "There is baseball and I think it's been a big movement to be able to get Little League and baseball into the inner cities and give them a chance to play."

The White Sox, much like MLB as a whole, have taken steps to renew baseball interest in the inner-city. Their Amateur City Elite baseball program has been in effect since 2007 and gives kids a chance to show their skills against other top teams around the country and presents a chance to earn collegiate scholarships through baseball.

National crosschecker Nathan Durst developed this program for the White Sox with an educational component in mind to go with the baseball. That specific component had a first-person boost on Friday, when ACE members attended the Roundtable discussion on Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement.

Kids today have their own set of unique issues to deal with. They got a unique perspective on some of the issues dealt with by those who paved the way long before them.

"A big part of the ACE program when we first started was to learn the history of baseball," Durst said. "More importantly, even these kids these days don't know enough about it and to learn more about the Negro League and where baseball came from and how popular it was and things like that. It's always essential. Breaking it down with people who have been it for such a long time is just a tremendous asset for them."

Reinsdorf was a young man in the stands at Robinson's Dodgers debut, which took place a few days before his first regular-season game on April 15, 1947. Robinson had been brought up to play in the traditional pre-Opening Day home-and-home series between the Dodgers and Yankees. Reinsdorf has been an exemplary owner over the past three decades in the diverse hiring practices, employing the first African-American general manager and manager at the same time in Williams and Jerry Manuel.

In living through this period, Reinsdorf quickly came to realize an underlying theme from this weekend's proceedings. MLB has played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, making this contest, as Baines said, "very important."

"Jackie Robinson crossed over both barriers. He did the Civil Rights and baseball," Baines said. "He stood for two different things. He broke the color barrier for baseball but more important for him, he stood for the rights of not just black people but all the people who had felt injustice."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
Read More: Chicago White Sox, Harold Baines, Addison Reed, Donnie Veal