It was a night of entertainment, education and culture as the Sugar Land Skeeters hosted its 1st Annual Black Heritage Night.
The event took place at 6 p.m. on Aug. 22 at Constellation Field, 1 Stadium Drive in Sugar Land.
The idea for the celebration came to life a year ago when Teneisha Hall, event marketing manager for the Sugar Land Skeeters, began looking for a way to reignite excitement for the sport of baseball in the African American community.
In her present role, Hall believes she is in the right place at the right time and expressed fullfillment in seeing her vision transformed into reality.
“Black Heritage night [highlighted] the diversity of Houston by reaching out to the African American community members who are looking to support events that involve their roots and culture,” said Hall.
The night brought an A-list of local African American baseball greats for a special recognition and autograph session with players that blazed a trail in the sport and left a legacy of success for others to follow.
The list of baseball greats slated to attend, included Grover “Deacon” Jones, Enos Cabell, Bob Watson, Mike Jackson, Charlie Hayes, Anthony Yuong, Seipio Spinks, Chuck McElroy, J.R. Richard, Jimmy Wynn, Trenidad Hubbard, Kevin Bass, Cecil Cooper and Rodney McCray.
“To be able to showcase the history of what those individuals have done, I think, is a great way to honor the spirit of what black players and individuals have done for baseball,” said Kyle Dawson, Sugar Land Skeeters senior director of community development.
The former ball players passed the torch to a local championship team of young ballplayers, the Missouri City Monarchs, in a special ceremony during the Black Heritage Night event.
The chance to impact young people and leave a lasting impression on their lives is a driving force for Grover “Deacon” Jones, a former Chicago White Sox player, who had the chance to cross paths with baseball great Jackie Robinson as a teenager.
“I had the opportunity to work out with the Brooklyn Dodgers, years ago as an 18-year-old kid and all of a sudden I am sitting there with a guy named Jackie Robinson, a guy named Pee Wee Reed, a guy named Duke Snyder, all these big names that a kid like me would be sitting at home listening to the radio and hear their names called,” said Jones.
“ Why did I get involved in baseball, I saw this black face, this is a guy that looks like me and he is playing on the highest platform of baseball imaginable. Maybe I can do that,” Jones said of the thoughts that ran through his mind.
“He sat down on the bench beside me and said ‘Grover, I’ve been watching you for three days, you have amazing ability, you are going to make the big leagues,’ and then said, ‘ You’re going to college aren’t you?’ My parents kept telling me, you’re going to college and I kept telling them no. But when Jackie Robinson asked me that question, I told him ‘yes sir’,” said Jones.
Years later Jones would cross paths with Robinson again and have a chance to tell him that he had finished college and signed with the White Sox.
“He hugged me in front of all those people and said that’s wonderful, I am proud of you and good luck. For Jackie Robinson to say that was a powerful moment for me,” said Jones.
He hopes that the young people that attended Black Heritage Night gained the same kind of inspiration.
Jones, who now serves as special assistant to the Sugar Land Skeeters president, saw the event as an opportunity to inspire a new generation of baseball players and fans.
“This is just a kick off of something very powerful,” said Jones.
Recap of the Event
With six months of intensive planning, plans were put in place for an exciting and educational community event with numerous highlights, including Texas Southern’s Marching Band “Ocean of Soul” taking center stage on Constellation field for a “soul-stirring” powerhouse performance preceding the Sugar Land Skeeters vs. Camden Riversharks ball game
Students from Fort Bend ISD’s Hightower High School unveiled a series of drawings of former African American baseball players in a special art gallery. Phyliss Harris, a Houston quilter, created a specially-designed quilt featuring a selection of former African-American baseball players that was to be auctioned off with proceeds going to Deacon’s Dugout Foundation.
An online portal also was set up to allow alumni from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to purchase tickets and have half of the ticket sales donated to their specific alumni association.
Numerous historically black colleges signed on to participate in Black Heritage Night special funding initiative, including Texas Southern University, Alabama A&M University, Grambling State University, Southern University, Clark Atlanta University, Tennessee State University, Jarvis Christian College and University of Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
The community also had a chance to support a special blood drive for 5-year-old twins Marcus and Marlon Davis, in their battle against sickle cell anemia.
With a whirlwind of exciting activities planned, the event also had room for some special surprises, including the unveiling of the Deacon “Grover” Jones bobblehead keepsake item.
“It is more important now than ever to bring baseball back to the community,” said Hall, a sentiment Jones shares.
“Having black folks come back to baseball is a dream of mine. We have lost a generation of black kids, and the question becomes, how do we bring them back?” said Jones.
The pair both believe that Black Heritage Night was the first step to making that happen and to exposing them to a top notch baseball facility in the community.
“Every mother I know would like to find a place where they can take their family for some sort of relaxation or entertainment that is affordable. The Sugarland Skeeters is the place,” said Jones.