Seattle postlude: Stories, links, photos, notes

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Just wanted to put a few finishing touches on my reports about the trip to Seattle that Herb, Felton and I started a week ago now. One of the things I wanted to post was the above picture, which was taken by RBI Club Commissioner Bob Simeone at theΒ Everett AquaSox game Saturday. On the left are Herb and Felton, while at the right are our hosts for the day, Dave and Kathy Hope. It was a phenomenal experience at the game, especially because I’m particularly fond of minor-league baseball.

Also … here’s a link to aΒ story I did for sportspressnw.com about Mariners third base coach Rich Donnelly and his personal connection to black baseball trailblazer Moses Fleetwood Walker.

And here’s a link to aΒ blog post I wrote for Seattle Magazine’s Web site. I’ll have a second post coming out on the publication’s site soon.

One more link, this one to aΒ story by blogger Mikaela Cowles about the RBI Club luncheon last Friday that recognized Herb.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has e-mailed me since the three of us returned home a couple days ago to thank us for coming and express what a pleasure it was to meet us all. The feeling is definitely, definitely mutual. πŸ™‚

Quite a special day

Where do you begin describing a day like we had today at Safeco Field? I have to get myself packed up to leave pretty much first in the morning with Herb and Felton, so for now I’ll just include a couple pics and a handful of scattered thoughts …

Here’s the first pic:

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This is pretty cool. Local Seattle artist Mikie Magnusson created that pair of Nike Airs specially for Herb to honor his appearance at the Mariners’ African-American Heritage Day and everything he has achieved in life. The shoes are emblazoned with phrases like “1946,” “Steelheads” and “WCNBL.”

“I was really surprised,” Herb just told me at the hotel. “This was really nice.”

The photo is courtesy of RBI Club Commish Bob Simeone.

Here’s the other photo, taken by team photographer Ben VanHouten of the on-field ceremony featuring a Herb and a slew of other Seattle black trailblazers. The ever-handsome Mr. Simpson is there on the far left:

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It was another absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous day at the ballpark β€” crystal-clear blue sky, no clouds in sight, low 80s … What more could you ask for?

Like I said, I’ll try to write more when I get home tomorrow or Tuesday, but here are a few are a few general thoughts:

β€’ First and foremost, if there’s one message I’d really like to get across, it’s that Mr. Herbert Simpson is one cool dude. And if you ever talk to him, ask him about his Satchel Paige story. πŸ™‚

β€’ Everyone associated with the Mariners has been absolutely wonderful. In addition to the RBI Club officials and members I’ve mentioned before, I’d especially like to thank Tim Helvy, the team’s media relations director who gave me an assignment about Herb for the official team magazine! Also, many, many thanks to Rebecca Hale for all her help and patience with me. I know I was a pest, but she was always willing to go out of her way to help me. Finally, thanks to the wonderful security/hospitality woman who was so kind and got me where I was going. She made a point of telling people to be extra helpful with me because it was my first time in an MLB press box.

β€’ Also thanks to Art Thiel at SportsPressNW.com for giving me not one, but two assignments this weekend.

β€’ Even more thanks here, these to Mariners third base coach Rich Donnelly, who took time before today’s game to be interviewed by me about his connection to African-American baseball groundbreaker Moses Fleetwood Walker (story at SportsPressNW.com to come).

β€’ Thanks to all of you for reading my babble!

β€’ Thanks to Lori, the love of my life, for all of her support and encouragement. I couldn’t have done this without her.

β€’ Finally, it was good to see that the lineups of both teams today included several African-American players, which is definitely a good sign given that the last couple decades have seen a precipitous decline in the number of American blacks in the game. The resurgence of the popularity among the African-American community is so, so good to see.

OK, that’s all for now. I’ll be back in a day or two …

Chilly in late July!

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We had a relatively restful day today, when we headed to Everett to watch an AquaSox game, and easily the best line of the night came from Herb, the professional and savvy ballplayer, was asked what he thought of the error-filled, wild-pitch-strewn, passed-ball-jammed game.

“It’s not as good as I’d thought it’d be,” he said, shaking his head.

The first few innings were especially filled with horrible, horrible pitching, and judging from Herb’s nice first ceremonial first pitch β€” he was being honored on the AquaSox’ Turn Back the Clock Night β€” he could have taken the mound and hurled better than them bums.

We were all the guests of Dave and Kathy Hope, ‘Sox season ticketholders, who got us comp tickets in the Diamond Club section right behind home plate. It was the first time I’ve ever had a waitress at a baseball game. It was pretty frickin’ cool.

Herb also signed autographs before the game, and after a somewhat slow start, a stead stream of fans lined up for his John Hancock. That’s him doing thusly in the pic above. The coolest part came when one father and a group of kids brought specially made baseball cards featuring Herb that were produced by a local business for the occasion.

The other notable thing about the game β€” at least for us New Orleanians β€” was the fact that when the sun went down, it got chilly at the ballpark. Chilly in late July! If it had been a Zephyrs game at this time of year, it still would have been, like, 88 degrees at 8:30 p.m.

Many, many thanks to the Hopes for hosting us. I also want to especially note that my brother, Nathan, drove up from Portland for the evening, and he came to the game with me. Because he and I live so far apart, and because I’m constantly financially strapped and unable to fly to Oregon, Nathan and I almost never see each other, so it was really, really good to hang out with my bro.

BTW, the AquaSox lost to Boise, 7-6, tonight. 😦 But I was able to buy a gift for my soon-to-be stepson, Eli β€” an AquaSox bouncy ball:

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More details from Friday’s exciting day

I wanted to give a few more interesting nuggets and stories from Friday’s big first day in Seattle. I’ll start with this photo:

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The 6th level (suite level) entrance features a wall of framed portraits and bios of several Negro League Hall of Famers, including this one of the inimitable Satchel Paige. One of Herb’s best stories from his baseball career is how he got two hits off of Satch in a game β€” a single and a double β€” and how ol’ Leroy congratulated him in person and bought him a Coke.

Another anecdote from yesterday comes from the RBI Club annual luncheon, at which we were guests. In addition to some tasty eats, the meeting included talks and appearances by a bunch of local Mariners, sports and media personalities, including SuperSonics legendary long-distance sharpshooter “Downtown” Freddie Brown; official Mariners broadcaster and “Voice of the Mariners” Rick Rizzs; ROOT SPORTS pregame and postgame host Brad Adam; and multimedia master and author of an upcoming biography about legendary Hall of Fame Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus.

The highlight of the luncheon (other than the recognition of Herb) was a brilliant, off-the-cuff presentation my M’s third base coach and grizzled MLB veteran Rich Donnelly, who regaled the audience with a slew of side-splitting anecdotes about his decades of involvement in the American pastime.

Coach Donnelly was seated at the table with Herb, Felton, myself, Lorri, Pete, Brad and others. When RBI Club head Bob Simeone gave me a shout-out at the start of the meeting portion of the luncheon, he noted that I was a journalist and researcher who specializes in the Negro Leagues.

A few minutes later, Coach Donnelly made a point of leaning over to me and revealing an incredible personal nugget of info: That he is from the same hometown, Steubenville, Ohio, as Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first widely accepted African-American to play in the major leagues. This was way back in the 19th century, when the sport was spelled “base ball” and the color line had yet to be drawn.

Coach Donnelly noted how proud he was to share a hometown with Fleet Walker (and Fleet’s brother, Weldy) and that he attended a recent memorial service for the hardball trailblazer.

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Moses Fleetwood Walker, who shares a hometown with Mariners third base coach Rich Donnelly.

Finally, we capped off the evening at the Northwest African American Museum, where Herb was the guest of honor at a reception. I had a chance to swing through the “Pitch Black” exhibit (which I hope to write more about soon) courtesy of a tour by fellow SABR member David Eskenazi, and as I posted last night, we heard poems written by two local youth in honor of Herb’s visit.

Almost as soon as we walked into the gallery, we were struck by a huge version of a team photo of the Spokane Indians from six decades ago, when Herb integrated the team and the Western International League. Right there on the right end of the top row of players was Mr. Simpson himself. When Herb saw the picture, he was immediately drawn to it, walked up, pointed to his smiling face and broke out into a brand new smile last night. You could tell how important a sight it was for him.

A little ways into the reception, museum exhibitions coordinator Chieko Phillips gave a short presentation about Herb, his career and his importance to Seattle history. She also stressed his importance as a World War II veteran and the meaning of his service to our country. She said the city is proud of him and his accomplishments.

“Here in Washington, we get to brag a little about him,” she said.

She noted that he was a gap hitter whose career also included time with top-level Negro League teams like the Birmingham Black Barons, the Homestead Grays and the Chicago American Giants.

She said that because the West Coast Negro Baseball League lasted only about two months, the Seattle Steelheads unfortunately initially “faded into historical obscurity,” but thanks to the efforts of numerous local researchers, writers and historians, “the legacy of Herb Simpson and our Steelheads lives on.”

She capped off her comments by introducing Malcolm and Betty, the two local students and museum junior curators who penned poems about Herb and his contribution to baseball history.

“These poems are for you, Herb,” she said, drawing a huge smile and grateful nod from the man of the hour.

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‘The sport I love’

Well, we concluded are incredibly packed day Friday at the Northwest African-American Museum for a reception in Herb’s honor and to tour the organization’s fantastically researched and displayed exhibit, “Pitch Black: African American Baseball in Washington,” which was put together by the effervescent Chieko Phillips, the museum’s exhibition’s director.

I’ll write more about the trip to the NWAAM (hopefully) tomorrow β€” all of us are totally whupped by now β€” but for now I wanted to post this, because this might have been the absolute highlight of the day:

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OK, first of all, yes, I think that is indeed my dopey thumb in the top left-hand corner. My profuse apologies to the people in the photo and to amateur photographers everywhere.

But obviously seated in the middle is Herb Simpson, but on the left is Malcolm Prevo, a rising sophomore at Kennedy Catholic High School, and on the right is Betty (I hope I have this right) Lemlemayehu, a rising sophomore at Evergreen High School.

Malcolm and Betty are junior docents at the museum who composed poems in honor of Herb, and the pair of new generationers read their works aloud to the assembled crowd in the gallery. Both poems were extremely moving and quite, quite impressive, and congrats to both Betty and Malcolm.

After the two teens read their work, I got a moment to chat with them about meeting Herb Simpson, the man for whom they dedicated their writing. The question was especially striking for Malcolm, who himself is a baseball player for Kennedy Catholic. He’s a catcher, btw. The next Josh?

But here’s what Malcolm had to say about Herb:

“Just seeing him and knowing that he’s been through a lot and learning about him, it reminds me that he fought for what he believed in, and he deserves this [recognition]. Without people like him, I wouldn’t be able to play baseball, the sport I love, like he did.”

I think I’ll just leave it at that. πŸ™‚

To new friends

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OK, unfortunately, I’m a terrible photographer, especially with just an iPhone, because if it wasn’t totally shrouded in shadow, this would be a great pic. On the left are Felton and Herb, on the right are Lorri, Pete and Bob from the RBI Club, some of the most gracious hosts humble visitors could ever ask for.

We had a incredible dinner of filet and salmon at The Harbor Club restaurant overlooking Puget Sound, a photo of which is below. The six of us had a wonderful “new friends” experience at the restaurant β€” many thanks to Harbor Club GM Craig McCrone for the great atmosphere and out-of-this-world food β€” before heading off to the Northwest African-American Museum.

Anyway, as promised, here’s a shot of the sound from (I think) the 17th floor:

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