Black Men And Baseball

My dad taught me to love the game, but for him a big part of the attraction was the idea that the pioneering stars of his generation offered a glimpse of what equality in America might look like.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox with son D'Angelo celebrate Father's Day at Fenway.
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox with son D'Angelo celebrate Father's Day at Fenway.

It was much the same at the 1973 game that my father and I attended where the Mets played the Atlanta Braves and Hank Aaron hit two-home runs during what was his last push towards Babe Ruth’s career total of 714 homeruns. It was with my father that I watched Mays’ last hurrah, during the 1973 World Series, when the great player’s age finally betrayed him in ways that could no longer be ignored.

Though I have remained a baseball fan for much of my life, girls and hip-hop would capture my attention in the decade after Mays’ retirement. There were few games that my father and I watched together as time progressed, though we excitedly discussed the emergence of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Godden as the New York Mets first homegrown black superstars in the mid-1980s. There was a decided silence between my father and I, when both of those men succumbed to the pitfalls of being young, black and famous in New York City.

I lament that my father and I never attended a baseball game together as adults—as men who could reflect on the beauty of the game along with the challenges that we faced as black men, fathers and loving husbands. My father’s absence hit home only a few weeks ago, as I watched the opening of the New York Mets’ new stadium Citi Field.

On hand for the opening festivities was Rachel Robinson, the 87-year-old widow of Jackie Robinson. In tribute to Robinson, Citi Field features the Jackie Robinson Rotunda where visitors can view memorabilia and video presentations of Robinson during his playing days. Sometime this summer I hope to visit Citi Field with my own children; my father will not be there, but his spirit will be present as I explain to my ho important this game of baseball was to their grand-father.




Mark Anthony Neal is the author of several books and currently completing Looking for Leroy: (Il)Legible Black Masculinities for New York University Press. He is Professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University in Durham, N.C.