Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has been observed on June 19 for over 150 years. But now it is a federal holiday. Juneteenth's increased -- and long overdue -- prominence has prompted Minor League teams to stage their own commemorations. Some of these endeavors took
Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has been observed on June 19 for over 150 years. But now it is a federal holiday. Juneteenth's increased -- and long overdue -- prominence has prompted Minor League teams to stage their own commemorations. Some of these endeavors took place last weekend, in advance of teams being on the road. Others will take place this weekend. Many of them have incorporated aspects of long-running Negro League tributes, while others are occurring for the first time.
What follows is a small sampling concentrated in the Carolinas. Expect other teams to follow suit as the day's importance continues to grow within the mainstream American consciousness.
Juneteenth Series, June 12-13
Durham Athletic Park, which hosted professional baseball from 1926 through 1994, wasn't just the home of the Durham Bulls. A variety of Negro League teams played there as well at sporadic intervals from the 1920s all the way into the 1960s. The Bulls, who are on the road this weekend, paid tribute to Durham's Negro League history during their June 12-13 Juneteenth Series. The legacy of the Durham Black Sox, Rams and Eagles was explored and celebrated, with contributions from alumni such as Willie "Pete" Hayes (a member of the Durham Rams from 1957-'60).
"The best time I had, before I went to play pro ball, was playing [at Durham Athletic Park] on the weekends. When all your friends and family would be there," said Hayes, speaking at Durham Athletic Park in a team-produced video. "You couldn't get in here! You couldn't get in."
The Bulls, the Rays' Triple-A affiliate, suited up in Jackie Robinson specialty jerseys for Saturday and Sunday's ballgames. The jerseys were then auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the Durham Bulls Athletic League.
Negro League Celebration June 19-20
Larry Doby, who broke the American League color barrier as a member of the 1947 Indians, was a native of Camden, South Carolina. The Columbia Fireflies, who play approximately 35 miles southwest of Camden, retired Doby's No. 14 prior to a game in 2019. The Low-A Kansas City affiliate will suit up as the Newark Eagles this weekend, honoring the Negro League team Doby played for prior to arriving in Cleveland. The Fireflies' opponent, the Augusta GreenJackets, will play in Chattanooga Choo-Choos uniforms. The Choo-Choos, members of the Negro Southern League, operated from 1940-46.
In tandem with their Negro League celebration, the Fireflies will honor the Community All-Star Baseball League. This local circuit began in 1940 and still operates today. In an article in the Fireflies game program, broadcaster and media relations director John Kocsis notes, "Although the CASBL was not ever considered an official Negro League, it grew up parallel to the Negro Leagues, under the same harsh circumstances of racism and bigotry that were fostered in the South in the early parts of the 20th century."
Russell "Crazy Legs" Patterson, an 82-year-old Indianapolis Clowns alumnus and local baseball legend (he still regularly attends CASBL games), will throw out a first pitch for the Fireflies on Saturday and then sign autographs.
Larry Doby Weekend, June 12-13
The Fireflies' celebration of Larry Doby follows in the footsteps of the Charleston RiverDogs, who have long staged an annual "Larry Doby Weekend." The RiverDogs also are based in Doby's home state of Carolina. An additional connection is that the team is co-owned by Mike Veeck. Veeck's father, legendary baseball executive Bill Veeck, signed Doby to the Indians in 1947.
This year's festivities, which coincidentally took place against the Fireflies, were severely curtailed by the weather. Saturday's game was postponed in the second inning, and Sunday's wasn't played at all. The RiverDogs suited up as Doby's Newark Eagles and the Fireflies, one week prior to playing as the Eagles themselves, dressed as the Homestead Grays. The Rays' Low-A affiliate donated tickets in Doby's name so area youth could attend for free, and planned events included a charity softball game featuring Black community and business leaders as well as the presentation of the RiverDogs' Humanitarian of the Year Award to local high school principal Henry Darby.
Last year, amid the 2020 season never was, RiverDogs director of community outreach Chris Singleton spoke about Doby's legacy and what he means to the team and community.
-- On Saturday, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos -- the Mariners' Double-A affiliate -- will wear Pensacola Seagulls jerseys. The Seagulls were a barnstorming squad who spent the 1949 season as members of the Negro Southern League.
-- As part of the El Paso Chihuahuas' Juneteenth celebration, the Triple-A Padres affiliate will honor a "Black Community Hero of the Borderland."
--Lake Elsinore Storm, San Diego's Low-A affiliate, are on the road today. The team's ballpark, The Diamond, will host a Juneteenth Freedom Day event featuring a variety of musical acts, dancers, speakers and vendors.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.