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Play Ball! (7.12.2023)

A few weeks ago, I was humbled and honored to attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game with a great bunch of pastors and community leaders. I don’t remember the last time I have been to a game.  I am sure I have been in the last 3 years, but it was not anytime recent.  I have taken close to hundred kids to the game from our annual children’s camp on several school buses more than once.  I must admit I cannot remember anything about the game, because I was always checking on the kids.  I was so tired that night I felt like I had played the game and may have needed to sleep for a few days.  The kids had such a good time, and some of them still talk about it today. When my children played baseball or little league, I would attend to support the kids.  For some reason, over time, I stopped going to as many games.  So going with these several couples and the wonderful treatment by the staff of the Pittsburgh Pirates was simply amazing.


Bullet Bob Feller, whose real name is Robert William Andrew Feller, was born November 3, 1918 and died December 15, 2010.  He had several nicknames, one was, “the Heater from Van Meter”, another was “Rapid Robert”, but what was believed to be his most famous nickname was, Bullet Bob”. He was an American icon of a baseball player and pitcher.  He played for 18 seasons in the Major League Baseball for the Pirates rival Cleveland Indians now known as the Cleveland Guardians.  He played between 1936 and 1956 in a career spanning 570 games. His win loss record was winning 266 games and losing 162.  He had 44 shutouts and 2,581 strikeouts which made him have the 3rd most strikeouts at his time of retirement.  He once said, “Everyday is a new opportunity.  You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again.  That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”  You can learn a lot from watching baseball.


Every year baseball prepares to celebrate Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier on April, 15, 1947. It is also a good time to take note of another historic event that occurred in 1971.  When the Pittsburgh Pirates took the field for a game against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 1, 1971, it may have, at first glance, seemed just like a regular game.  In fact, it wasn’t until about the second inning when the Pirates’ second baseman Dave Cash, chuckling, told Al Oliver, who was playing first base, “Man, we got all brothers out here.”

It was the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a team started all nine black and Latino players. It occurred 24 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947.  The historic lineup didn’t generate much media coverage as the Pirates rallied to win a 10-7 slugfest.

However, it is a day worth remembering as we consider the dwindling number of African-Americans playing in the MLB today. According to the Society of Baseball Research, only 8.3 percent of the players on 2014 opening day rosters were African-American. As of opening day 2023, 945 players were African -American which represents 6.3 percent of all players.  That is way down from the highwater mark of 18.6 percent in 1986.

Led by the brilliance of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, the ’71 Pirates won the National League pennant, and went on to beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, 4-2. Clemente was named the series MVP.

Here is the starting lineup for the game: Manny Sanguillien, (catcher), Dock Ellis (pitcher), Al Oliver (first base), Dave Cash (third base), Rennie Stennett (second base), Jackie Hernandez (shortstop), Roberto Clemente (right field), Willie Stargell (left field), Gene Clines (center field).

The sobering thought about that game from the perspective of African-Americans, who are still fans of the game, is that it seems highly unlikely that a team will ever start nine black players again. The sport has lost popularity in most African-American communities.

And that is too bad because there is an abundance of opportunities to play on the collegiate and possibly the professional level, where the paychecks are lucrative and guaranteed.

No wonder Willie Stargell, another great baseball player of his time once said, “When you start the game, they don’t say “Work ball!”  They say, “Play ball.””  Whether you are watching it or playing you are in for a good time. 

I know this summer has had record high temperature days. Summer is when we work on our gardens, or go swimming outside, or take a family vacation.  I would like to suggest one more activity for you this summer, go watch a baseball game.  It may be more relaxing than you thought possible. 

I am told people who are married and go to baseball or sporting events together stay married longer and can have happier times together than those that don’t. I haven’t done a personal study, and don’t have any special knowledge of if that is true.  I guess when they would break out in an argument, one might say, “How about that game today!”

As I close, I want to congratulate the Wheeling Police Department and their Police Chief on their new headquarters facility.  Congratulations to the City of Wheeling and all who made it possible.  Now I say to one and all, “Play Ball!!”