At the end of the tour, Scott Hairston looked at a picture of a man who looked like him. Sam Hairston, his grandfather and the patriarch of a three-generation baseball family, wore an Indianapolis Clowns uniform. “I wish my grandfather had seen the museum,” Hairston said. “I’m sure he could spend all day in there.”
This afternoon, Hairston, shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span and first base coach Tony Tarasco visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. The president of the museum, Bob Kendrick, personally led the men through the displays, photographs and artifacts. None had ever been before, and they all cherished the experience.
“There’s so much you really didn’t know about,” Span said. “I enjoyed every moment, just hearing some of the stories and just hearing about the history of the Negro Leagues. You wouldn’t know unless you would actually go to the place.”
“I can’t imagine going through a fraction of what they had to go through and still trying to play the game they love,” Span added.
They loved the stories. Span heard the one about how Cool Papa Bell could flip a light switch and then be in bed before the room went dark. He had no idea how large the crowds got at Negro League games, how they sometimes outdrew the major leagues. The old pictures of the crowd, everyone wearing suit and ties, struck him.
“They dressed like they were going to a ball or whatever,” Span said. “That was their outing, to go to a game. Not to make it a racial thing, but being African-American, we as a race, we know how to have fun. We know how to take the worst and still have fun in whatever circumstance we’re given.”
Hairston, who brought along his wife and kids, never knew about the financial impact the league made in cities. African-American businesses in Negro League cities flourished because Negro Leagues players and fans propped them up, and once the Negro Leagues ended, business suffered.
Tonight, the Nationals and Royals will wear Kansas City Monarchs and Homestand Grays in tribute.
“I like seeing the old equipment,” Hairston said. “That was really cool for me.”
Hairston’s family gatherings as a kid, before his grandfather passed away in 1997, included sotries. He didn’t ask many questions. He listened. His grandfather talked about watching greats – Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, a young Hank Aaron. Sam Hairston told them about the time he hit an intentional ball for an opposite-field home run. The museum, Hairston said, brought the stories to life.
“That definitely won’t be my last visit,” Span said.