Over the last couple decades Greensboro has seen some incredible, sometimes historic ballplayers grace the diamond. Andy Petitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton, Bryce Harper, Brian McCann, and Ryan Howard have all brushed through Greensboro. Some of the ballplayers were on the Greensboro team that was affiliated with the New York Yankees, others played for the Marlins affiliate. Some even played on opposing teams that gave us a chance to get a glimpse at a major leaguer in a minor league ballpark. Before the season started Greg and I went to go see the movie “42” together. It tells the story of Jackie Robinson‘s entry into Major League Baseball. Phenomenal movie. I realized during that movie, that I didn’t know that much about good ol’ Jackie. So I started doing some research and anything that had his name on it, I was intrigued to read it. It wasn’t too much longer, Bill On Baseball‘s Bill Hass wrote me a message to check out his article in the Greensboro Grasshoppers game day program. It was about Jackie Robinson and his ties to Greensboro. Bill has been so gracious to give us permission to share with you guys his story on baseball’s Hall Of Famer, Jackie Robinson, and his connections to Greensboro.
Jackie Robinson And His Ties To Greensboro
by Bill Hass
Jackie Robinson’s impact on the game of baseball and society in America was immense.
I don’t think I fully understood to what extent until I wrote a story in 2004 for the News & Record of Greensboro. It focused on how the stands were segregated in War Memorial Stadium, which didn’t change until the early 1960s.
One of the people I interviewed was Spencer Gwynn, the long-time voice of football and basketball at North Carolina A&T, who summed up what Robinson meant to African-Americans in 25 words.
“Black people all over the country identified with him,” Gwynn said. “When Jackie struck out, we struck out. When Jackie stole a base, we stole a base.”
Many people don’t realize that Robinson played three times in Memorial Stadium. Or they may remember two games, in 1950 and 1951, when the Brooklyn Dodgers played the Greensboro Patriots in exhibition games as they traveled north from spring training in Florida.
But the largely forgotten game, and the first time Robinson played here, came on Oct. 14, 1949. Robinson had a team of barnstorming all-stars that came to town to play against a local team of black all-stars.
Segregation of Memorial Stadium’s stands was suspended for that day. An advance story in the Greensboro Daily News noted that “a special section of box and reserved seats has been set aside for white spectators.”
That meant black fans, instead of having to sit in “their section” down the foul line behind first base, could sit anywhere.
Robinson’s presence created what Gwynn called “an electric crowd.” The official attendance was listed at 6,620 and Robinson was quoted as saying, “I know 3,000 crawled over the fences that weren’t counted.”
Robinson’s team won, 11-5. One of the opposing players was James Tonkins, a second baseman for the Greensboro Red Birds, a semi-pro team that played its games in Memorial Stadium.
“I remember he went sightseeing on old East Market Street, meeting people,” Tonkins told me. “It seemed like he went on campus (at N.C. A&T) that day.
“What fascinated me so much was how pigeon-toed he was, almost like he was walking on the tips of his toes. He was quite a guy, real outgoing. His appearance created quite a bit of interest.”
So did Robinson’s second appearance, on April 11, 1950. The Dodgers crushed the Patriots 22-0 and Robinson had three hits and two RBIs and scored twice. Attendance was 8,434, the largest crowd up until then to watch a baseball game in North Carolina.
The crowd probably was larger. Patriots owner Rufus Blanchard estimated that 1,500 youngsters slipped over the fence. One account told of 500 people “clinging perilously to tree branches and rooftops outside the stadium.”
For some reason I did not document, at least in that story, Robinson’s third appearance here. It came in April of 1951 and it’s likely the Dodgers won and the crowd was large.
I started thinking about all this after recently seeing the movie “42,” an account of 1947, the year Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues. For the most part, it was well done and a fitting tribute to what Robinson endured that season, set against the background of the social changes he helped set in motion.
The movie strived to be as authentic as possible — the physical resemblance between Robinson and actor Chadwick Boseman is uncanny — although it took some dramatic license with incidents and characters.
Two characters in the movie, both of whom are cast in a bad light, have a Greensboro connection. Dixie Walker, Robinson’s teammate, played with the Patriots in 1928 at age 17, although he appeared in just six games.
Walker is accurately depicted as one of the Dodgers who signed a petition — rejected by team president Branch Rickey — saying they would not play if Robinson was a member of the team. Although the movie implies otherwise, there is no evidence Walker gave Robinson a hard time during their season together.
In his biography “I Never Had It Made,” Robinson uses a quote from Walker that appeared in The Sporting News: “Dixie Walker summed it up in a few words the other day when he said: ‘No other ballplayer on this club with the possible exception of Bruce Edwards, has done more to put the Dodgers up in the race than Robinson has. He is everything Branch Rickey said he was when he came up from Montreal.”
Another “villain” in the movie is Pittsburgh pitcher Fritz Ostermueller. Unlike Walker, he didn’t just pass through Greensboro. He pitched for the Patriots in 1931, going 15-9, and in 1932, when he was 21-9.
In the movie Ostermueller, who died of cancer at age 50 in 1956, is shown as hitting Robinson in the head with a pitch and saying “You don’t belong here.” But there are several problems with the scene.
First, he was a left-hander, not right-handed as the movie shows. Second, research by several sources indicates that while Robinson was hit by Ostermueller’s pitch, it wasn’t in the head. The pitch may have been up and in, but Robinson was struck in the left forearm that he raised to protect himself, then fell to the ground. And there is no account that says Ostermueller shouted at Robinson.
The Dodgers are shown rallying around the fallen Robinson and shouting at Ostermueller, and accounts of the day bear that out.
Ostermueller’s daughter, Sherrill Duesterhaus, has publicly criticized the directors for unfairly portraying her father as a racist. Robinson didn’t seem bothered by the incident. In his book, the only mention of Ostermueller, whom he referred to as “Fitz,” is that during a game in Pittsburgh, Robinson noticed the pitcher had become “a little careless and relaxed.” So he stole home with what turned out to be the winning run.
Make what you will of Walker and Ostermueller. I just found it interesting that two players with Greensboro backgrounds played important parts in “42.”
There are two more indirect connections between Jackie Robinson and Greensboro. One came in 2002, when the second baseman for the Greensboro Bats was Robinson Cano, now a star for the New York Yankees. Cano told me his father named him for Jackie Robinson.
The other connection concerns Mariano Rivera, the great Yankees closer who played for the Greensboro Hornets in 1991 and 1993. Rivera, who will retire after this season, is the last player in the major leagues to wear the number 42, which was permanently retired several years ago for all teams.
It seems a fitting legacy that the now-famous number of Hall-of-Famer Jackie Robinson is being worn for the last time by future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera.
That is one thing that makes Greensboro such a spectacular place to watch a game. You never know who you are watching make history. With storied names like Robinson, Jeter, Stanton, Petitte, Fernandez, it just makes Greensboro all the more fun. If you looked back in the history pages you would see that it has been and forever will be… A GREAT TIME TO BE A HOPPER!!!
Once again, we offer a sincere thank you to Bill Hass for sharing this incredible story. You can check out all of Bill’s stories on his “Bill On Baseball” blog. This story about Jackie Robinson is also set to run again in the Greensboro Grasshoppers program during their June 24-30 home stand against the Asheville Tourists and the Delmarva Shorebirds, so be sure to check it out in print when you’re at the ballpark next week!
Today was my first day back at the ballpark in several weeks. My first real trip out to somewhere other than the hospital since Addie was born. I knew our great friends, the Shaw family, was going to be at the game today. On my way in to the stadium, I called Don Moore. He’s the co-founder of greensborosports.com. He told me there were only around 800 people there. Not a good Sunday crowd. Sundays are usually big days at the stadium because the families can go play catch on the field and afterwards they let the kids run the bases. Always a fun day out there. Anyways, I get there and the line to buy my ticket was a 30 minute wait. What happened to the 800 number? Turns out they were sold out today except for general admission lawn seats.
Dylan Shaw, seen above, is my little buddy. His dad and I are great friends. Seeing him have fun at the stadium today reminded me what this is all about. I’ve said it many times before, but when you ask someone the next day about the game, the score, or the two run homer hit out that looked like it hit the Marriott hotel. Odds are to the vast majority of the fans there, today was about good, wholesome, quality time with their family. To guys like me that are avid fans of the Hoppers can tell you stats, rosters, fun facts, ect. This is why its America’s pastime. Baseball brings families and friends together like no other sport can. The excitement of home runs, Babe and Yogi retrieving the bats, the crazy between inning games, and the excitement of spending this time with your family, makes the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the best entertainment value in Greensboro.
Today was a fantastic game on the field as well. Hoppers beat the Delmarva Shorebirds 11-2 ending their current 4 game losing streak. There was a very nice two run homer by Jesus Solarzarno in the sixth that seemed to hit off the Jefferson Pilot building in downtown. The Hoppers also started a rally to make Shorebird stew scoring 7 times in the 8th inning.
So whether you are sitting at home, at the beach, or at a cookout this memorial day, remember IT’S A GREAT TIME TO BE A HOPPER!
Tonight was an amazing night at the ballpark. Let me first start by saying that I was unable to be at the ballpark last night due to a prior obligation for the Jamestown Newspaper. I also photograph and cover High School games and other events around the area. This one in particular was a Varsity Baseball game hosted by Ragsdale High School against the cowboys of Southwest. The VS-CANCER FOUNDATION is a foundation that uses the platform of sports to raise awareness and money for cancer research. Between the two high schools, they raised over 10,000 dollars! Amazing what can happen when a bunch of high school kids rally around a cause. I was thoroughly impressed with not only the heart and passion of the team as a team, but at the end of the game, every player shaved their heads in honor of the awareness raised that night. Last night, life was just a little bigger than baseball.
Once you walk into the ballpark, there are several things different this year. First of all, Taylor Made Kettle Corn is no longer there. Which to those that know Greg and I personally, this is a big blow. We were both disappointed opening night that Pat wasn’t out there with his kettle corn. Chick-Fil-A is also no longer there. I will miss the Chick-Fil-A double plays, as that was a big part of my diet last season. At first, I was a little disappointed to see that there is now a Pita Delite in the ballpark. How is Pita Delite going to work amongst the Hot Dogs, Nachos, and BBQ? Then I saw the steak and cheese’s… I’m now very happy there is a Pita Delite there now! To us season ticket holders, it gets mundane eating hot dogs every night. And Papa John’s now sponsors the Greensborosports.com K zone. Every game they issue a promo code for discounts for Papa John’s pizza based on the number of strikeouts. Shanna and I had dinner the other night 50% off!
Onto tonight’s game…. The Hoppers shut out the last place Lakewood Blueclaws 8-0. Tony Caldwell hit the grasshoppers first home run out of New Bridge Bank Park this season! The Hoppers runs came in spurts and Austin Brice was slinging fire tonight. Austin Brice threw 5 innings, allowed 2 hits, and slung 4 strikeouts. Tonights pitching staff only saw 4 hits total from the Blueclaws!
Spotlight player of the night definately goes to Tony Caldwell. Tony had four at bats, hitting in three of them. He was only a triple away from completely a cycle tonight; having a single, double, and a home run.
With this win tonight, the Hoppers move to 7-3 on the season. They are currently undefeated at home with a record of 3-0. The Hoppers intend on keeping the first place seat warm, but the Shorebirds are knocking on that door.
With an on-feild temperature of 75 degrees, it was definately A GREAT NIGHT TO BE A HOPPER!
(Photo Credit: Jordan Stowe)
Delmarva Shorebirds were in town today for the last day game of the season. It was also Money off monday which meant one dollar beer, sodas, and hot dogs. We talk about all the time about the Grasshoppers being “the HEART ATTACK HOPPERS”. Well today’s rally proved that. They were down but definitely not out. Greensboro would strike first in the third inning on Wilfredo’s second homer of the season. Austin Barnes would later cross the plate for the Hoppers in that inning. And just when everyone started getting comfortable, Kevin Cravey would allow four runs to come in. Which made the score 4-2 in the bottom of the 5th inning with the shorebirds on top. After a pitching change for the Hoppers, the Shorebirds would stay scoreless the rest of the game.
IT’S RALLY TIME!!! Eriq and Josh sporting their Rally Caps
And just like many times before this season, It was RALLY TIME! We love the Rally dance at the ballpark. And today was nothing short of that. In the Seventh inning Aaron Senne would rob Mike Planeta of a home run. In the bottom of the seventh, Brent Keys would single sending Matt Smith home to make the score 4-3. The very next batter, Ryan Goetz, would send a sacrifice fly out sending Ryan McIntyre across the plate tying the game 4-4. And on to extras we go… Greensboro is at bat in the bottom of the 11th, Ryan McIntyre flies out to left fielder Mike Planeta. ONE OUT. Wilfredo Gimenez singles on a ground ball to left fielder Mike Planeta. Brent Keys would single on a line drive to center fielder Roderick Bernadina. Wilfredo Gimenez would advance to 2nd. Ryan Goetz singles on a ground ball to right fielder Brenden Webb. Wilfredo Gimenez to 3rd. Brent Keys to 2nd. BASES LOADED. ONE OUT. Austin Barnes strikes out swinging. TWO OUTS, BASES STILL LOADED. Aaron Senne “SENNE IN THE CITY” singles on a ground ball to center fielder Roderick Bernadina. Wilfredo Gimenez scores. HOPPERS WIN! HOPPERS WIN! HOPPERS WIN! The final score was 5-4 in 11 innings.
The Hoppers Shot down the Birds tonight to advance to 21-24 in the second half and 4 games behind the first place West Virginia Power. The Hoppers can be seen next in ROME, GA against the Rome Braves. First Pitch is at 7pm Wednesday night. Be sure to tune in to Greensborosports.com for all game audio and video of all home games. Greensborosports.com is the place to go for all your grasshopper and greensboro sports needs.
If one thing can be said about Grasshopper fans, it’s that they are loyal. Last night, it rained…and rained…and rained. At the end of a two and a half hour rain delay, there were still fans to sit in the stands and cheer on the Hoppers! It rained during the night and continued through this morning and afternoon. Yet when I stepped foot in the ballpark tonight I expected to be one of a select few to be there. I was surprised. There were probably about 300 people who had came out in the rain, just on the off chance that we would have a ballgame. This rationale makes me believe that Greensboro Baseball is more than just baseball. It’s about a community, a lifestyle, a family, it’s about cheering on a team from 7 games back all the way to winning the SAL League Title! It’s about believing in something magical, like a “BACK TO BACK TO BACK home run seen only a few nights ago or witnessing the very first swing of the season and it sails over the fence for a home run. If you ever question or wanna know whether this city is behind this ball club, look at last night and today. Nobody left when it started raining. Everyone stayed till they officially called the game. No one wanted to leave. It is that concept that makes me proud to be a hopper and I continue to echo the sentiment, IT’S A GREAT TIME TO BE A HOPPER!
Today’s game will be replayed May 24th, 2012 at Delmarva. It will be played there because we do not play Delmarva at home till the second half of the season.
Maybe it was the sound of the popcorn popping. Maybe it was the smell of a juicy Milwaukee Brat sizzling on the grill. Maybe it was that the first pitch was throw out by a seven year old girl with her teammates cheering her on, on the field. Maybe it was the 93/95 mph fastballs that Adam Conley was slinging tonight. But something was magical. In the first three innings, Adam saw 10 batters, struck out 1, and allowed no hits. His arm was flawless tonight. Seeing him in person, he totally worth the hype. We’ll be seeing him in Miami before too long. The Hoppers were all tied up at zero when the heavens opened up. And when I say they opened up, THEY OPENED UP! The tarp hit the field and the game was delayed for the better part of 2 hours.
Providing the entertainment for those 2 hours was the always popular, BBoy McCoy, the dancing Bat Boy. Stay tuned, I got some video of his moves… Once the rain delay lifted, Omahen started pitching. Omahen saw 14 batters, 3 strikeouts, and only 2 hits. In the third inning, Ryan Rieger sent a sacrifice fly out to center field sending Ryan Goetz home to make it 1-0. Josh Adams, also sent a sacrifice fly to left field, sending Brent Keys home, to make it 2-0. And while Ryan Goetz was up batting in the fourth a wild pitch was thrown and Ryan McIntyre ran in to score, making it 3-0. But that didn’t make the hoppers out of the woods yet. In the 7th inning, Michael Planeta homers on a fly ball to left field. Making the score 3-1. And in the top of the 9th, the Shorebirds slammed another Homer, making it 3-2, hoppers lead. The last play of the game, FULL COUNT, 3-2 (3 balls, 2 strikes) Hoppers up by one, Shorebirds have runners on first and second. The batter swings, hit the ball straight to Austin Barnes at 2nd base, for the first out, and slings it to Ryan Rieger at first base for the double play!!! HOPPERS WIN!!! With this win the Grasshoppers hold on to 1st place in the Northern Division and improve to 12-5 on the year!
Shorebirds, Glynn Davis, at bat
Hoppers, Adam Conley, slinging 95 mph fastballs toward the plate!
Hope you enjoyed the blog tonight, as this was my first one, feel free to comment. It was a wet and soggy one, but I still echo the sentiment, IT’S A GREAT TIME TO BE A HOPPER!
The Greensboro Grasshoppers trounced the Delmarva Shorebirds tonight with an impressive 10-7 come-from-behind victory. It has me wondering if this is a fairy tale. With this win, it’s a sweep of the Shorebirds. With this win, it puts the Hoppers only 3 games out of first place for the 2nd half. With this win, the Hoppers have a legitimate — but still difficult — chance at the playoffs. It may be a fairy tale in the making.
The Hoppers started out well, scoring the first run of the game in the 2nd inning. And then the third inning came and everything fell apart. Delmarva scored seven runs, putting the Hoppers six runs behind. Fortunately, those were the only runs Delmarva scored, and the Hoppers managed to score a run in the fifth, another run in the seventh, and six big runs in the eighth to pull the score to 10-7. It was a nail-biter of a game and there were several times I was concerned that the Hoppers wouldn’t make it. Like the time when they loaded the bases with only one out, and managed to strand all three base runners. But, in the end, a win is a win. And this win is exactly what the Hoppers needed to do to stay alive with a shot for the playoffs. Kannapolis also won against Rome tonight, so we didn’t gain any ground against them.
What does this all mean? It means that the final five games of the season are the games it will boil down to. What’s even more exciting is that those games are against Kanappolis. Every one we win, we are guaranteed to pick up a spot against them in the standings. I ran into Hoppers announcer Jim Scott in the score after the game and he said that the Hoppers need to win 3 out of 5 in order to make it happen. Kannapolis is a great team, so it’s going to be difficult to accomplish that — especially in Kannapolis — but it’s possible. If the Hoppers aren’t able to win the 2nd half outright, they still have a wild card chance if Hickory stays on the top of the standings. It’s going to be an interesting game of divisional standings chess between now and Labor day. Bill on Baseball has a great recap of tonight’s game and details about what needs to happen in various situations to allow the Hoppers to get in the playoffs: Hoppers’ scintillating run continues. Be sure to check it out, as well as the official box score and game recap.
The win was great, but what made this an extra special night for me is that I got to spend the evening with about 40 of my friends in the Party Deck on the third base side. A few weeks ago, I won a drawing sponsored by Sheetz where the prize was a free night on the Party Deck, including supper. It was AWESOME. Here’s a picture from the deck:
The folks at the ballpark took real good care of us. We had an all-you-can-eat hot dog and bbq buffet. We had a great view of the ballpark. I even arranged with Pat Taylor, owner of Taylor Made Kettle Corn, to have enough kettle corn up in the seats for everyone to enjoy. I’ve always maintained that the kettle corn is the best deal in the ballpark, and I was excited to be able to share it with my friends tonight. I got upstairs, and there was a bag on every table, with a couple of extra bags on the buffet line. Several of the Hoppers staff, including Todd and Tim, also stopped by to check on things. Even Guilford stopped by:
As you can see, I was wearing the Kyle Winters jersey I won at the Tropical Jersey Night auction a few weeks ago.
At one point, my wife Meredith went down to the field to take some pictures because we knew some of the folks who were going to participate in one of the on-field promotions. Here’s a cool shot that she took of Mark Canha swinging hard. I don’t know if he connected on that particular swing or not, but it was his three run homer that put us in the lead in the eighth.
Since it was the last home game of the regular season, the Hoppers put on the best fireworks show of the year. Every explosion was really cool, and the show lasted a bit longer than usual. It was really neat to be able to watch the fireworks from the second level.
It was sad to leave the park when the game was over, but with the excitement the team has been building by maintaing such a long winning streak, I won’t be surprised if I find myself back in the park for a playoff game in a week or so. I’m planning to head down to Kannapolis for the entire series. If you’re planning on making it out to any of the games, leave a comment on the blog and let me know. We’ll definitely catch up with each other at the game.
It’s an exciting time to be a Hoppers fan.
Remember, you can click on any of the pictures in the post to embiggen them. Check out the photo album on Facebook for all the pictures. Join the conversation by leaving a comment — what are you thinking?