I had been really hoping last week that I could attend the sixth annual Negro Leagues reunion in Birmingham, which was held May 25-27, just about six weeks before the scheduled grand opening of the state-of-the-art, interactive museum dedicated to all levels of African-American baseball, from the talent-laden and fiercely competitive industrial leagues on up to the legendary Birmingham Black Barons Negro American League team that was the jewel of deep South blackball.
However, unfortunate fiduciary limitations prevented me from making the trek from NOLA to the reunion, which was attended by 70-plus former players, coaches and executives. It included attendance at the 20th annual Rickwood Classic.
But although I couldn’t be there in person, I just spoke last night with Macon, Ga., native and current Birmingham resident Ernest Fann, who spent several years playing pro and semi-pro ball in the Negro Leagues circa 1960. During his stint in the blackball big time, Fann played for, among other squads, the Raleigh Tigers, about whom I’m writing a story for the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper.
Following up on my chat with Ernest Fann and on the players reunion last week in Birmingham, I just wanted to write a little bit about Ernest’s thoughts on the event last week.
Ernest has been going to these reunions for several years, and for the last couple years he’s been able to help out with pulling it together — he offered to drive fellow attendees around the city.
“The reunion went great,” he told me. “Every year, I get a chance to volunteer to drive players around and make them feel comfortable while they’re in town.”
Ernest said he’s encouraged by all the youngsters who attend the reunions and get a chance to talk with former Negro Leaguers about the players’ experiences on and off the diamond.
“It’s good for them to know who we are and what we did,” he said. “It’s a good chance to educate the kids.”
Ernest always gets thrill going to the Rickwood Classic, when he gets a chance to return to the legendary ballpark where, many years ago, he had one of his greatest experiences — playing there for the first time. Being at Rickwood, he said, is a truly unique, even magical experience.
“I had the opportunity to walk around the stadium and see all the history and pictures and plaques,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of something like that.”
I’m working on getting some photos from the reunion to post, so keep checking back. I can’t guarantee it, but I’ll see what I can do. 🙂