The Game of Life

Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but to me, it is more than just a game.  As it has taught me this valuable lessons,,,,,,  that when we refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice, there will come a day when people of all races will be invited and welcomed to follow their dreams regardless of their race, color or creed.

Mr. Toastmaster, guest, and my fellow Toastmasters: That is my message to you today, and in case you are wondering, I learned that lesson in my wonder years from my Papa; Big George. I will always remember his stories about the heroes who made baseball the game of life. Papa would always say before you move forward in life, take a moment to look back. So come with me as I take you back,  to those dark days of summer, when America was segregated, and so too was the game of baseball.

Back then, there were the major leagues. Then there were the leagues for people of color only, the Negro leagues, with all-stars like Satchel Page, Gosh Gibson, and the James Cool Papa Bell; the fastest man who ever ran the bases. A man who could flick a light switch and get into bed before the room got dark. Still, most Americans never saw these players in their prime all, because of the color of their skin.

It was also a time in History when the good people from the better side of the tracks did attend the same schools, worship at the same churches, or drink from the same water fountains. The Jim Crow laws of the day even that was illegal.  While many felt in their hearts that segregation was wrong, they remained silent.   Everyone knew the owners of both leagues had ties to the vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan. To protect themselves, the Negro League players also remained silent, playing for the love of the game, while the Major Leaguers enjoyed the royal treatment with their pictures on these beautiful baseball trading cards.

Initially, I collected baseball cards for the bubble gum in each packet. Then I began collecting by teams regardless of the color and discovered this card, which seemed out of place. The player was Jackie Robinson, the team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. I even scratched the surface of the card to see if his complexion would change. It “didn’t” – who knew, I might have started scratchers.  It was then I asked my Pap, Big George how did Robinson become a Dodger. Papa replied:

Son, in 1947 a retired Baptist Minister, Mr. Branch Rickey managed the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was adamant that if all men are created equal, they should compete equally on a level playing field regardless of color.  When he invited Jackie Robinson to join his team the Dodgers, everyone turned against him. Mr. Rickie refused to remain silent. Robinson soon realized he “was invited but not welcomed”.  Robinson was able to silence his critics still Robinson was not accepted as a teammate.  In the face of that injustice, Again Rickey refused to remain silent, and Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger.

From that moment, I was inspired!  I wanted to grow up to be just like Jackie Robinson and was even more committed when I learned that Robinson’s greatest fear was not the death threats he received, but was how he would perform at his first game in the south. When that day came, the good people of the Cincinnati Reds did not fail to disappoint, however, not once did Robinson say anything to disgrace himself or his team.

When the umpire: the blue shouted – Play Ball! – Pee Wee Reese a white player beloved by all did the unthinkable.  Reese walked over to the first base with tears in his eyes to recognize Robinson as his teammate – and in that one triumphant moment, baseball became America’s Game. Fellow Toastmasters, May 13 marks the 69 anniversary of that legendary embrace at first base.  It took 22 more years before the last team integrated. It was the Boston Red Sox and here we are today, all because of those heroes, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reece, and Manager Blanch Rickie.  How about you – when next you are faced with injustice, will you remain silent- or will you chose to be a hero of the Game of Life.

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