OK, this is absolutely the last one today … It’s just so good that I really want to get it in ASAP.
I’m frequently in touch with Rodney Page, son of Allen Page, who was pretty much the patriarch of the African-American baseball scene in New Orleans for almost a half-century. In my mind, Allen Page’s contributions to and influence on the local baseball picture is terribly unrecognized and overlooked. Maybe that will change after this. We shall see.
The Pages, including Allen’s offspring, were intimate friends with Wesley Barrow, a manager and mentor for decades who ranks right along side Allen Page in terms of importance here. About a week or two ago, I blogged about the depressingly shoddy state of the cemetery in which Wesley Barrow is buried. I forwarded the link to the blog post to Rodney, who in response had nothing but warm recollections and fond memories of the skipper.
In fact, Rodney was asked to contribute a brief essay about Wesley Barrow when the baseball stadium in Pontchartrain Park was rededicated a couple years ago in honor of Barrow and the arrival of Major League Baseball’s latest Urban Youth Academy, which is now headquartered in Wesley Barrow Stadium. Rodney shared with me what he wrote for that special day:
A DISTANT MEMORY OF WESLEY BARROW
The ball field was on the West Bank on a road near the river, nothing fancy, yet a place for fans and players to gather and enjoy a Sunday afternoon of baseball. It was a hot, sunny, Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1964 and the stands are packed with at least several hundred fans. I’m not certain who drove us across the river as my dad no longer had an automobile. At my father’s request, I had been invited to play with Wesley Barrow’s semi-pro team that day.
Hearing the crack of the bat, I drifted back slightly towards the left-field fence with my eyes clearly focused on the baseball coming swiftly towards me. Upon catching the ball, I immediately and in one motion stepped into my throw to home plate. It was a beautiful throw – a Roberto Clemente type, or so I thought. Yet the voice and words came quickly: “Little Page, hit the cut-off man.” It was the teaching and the words of Wesley Barrow. And yes, that would have been the correct throw, instead of the spectacular. It was a basic fundamental of baseball related to throws from the outfield. Always aim for the cut-off man for a relay or the ball to reach the catcher/plate on the bounce. It was the call to attention and proper mechanics. It was the strong, firm, yet affirming voice sharing the finer points of his craft. It was Wesley Barrow, baseball purist and the man who had a love affair with baseball. Even the times when the game did not love him back, his love for baseball remained unconditional and enduring.
This is now a very distant yet profound memory, cherished in the recesses of my heart, mind soul and spirit. It is an infrequent memory that was re-awakened by the Wesley Barrow Stadium dedication. I knew him well as he was frequently around the many baseball promotions of my father, Allen C. Page.
Wesley Barrow – a baseball purist; a love affair with baseball. A good man, a good soul! May his love for the game of baseball continue beyond the pearly gates.
Many, many thanks to Rodney for being willing to share his touching tribute to a man who, like Rodney’s father, helped the NOLA blackball scene thrive for decades.