Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cool Jacket

Last week while shopping at the local grocery store, I noticed a man by the dairy section walking rather slowly, his shoulders slumped. He was an older gentleman, and even though everyone around him was moving more fluidly, he had a presence about him. Just when I was about to avert my eyes and start minding my own business again, I noticed something else: His jacket.

It was a black leather jacket. On the back scripted in charcoal gray were the words "Negro Leagues," and spread evenly throughout the back were the colorful logos of many Negro League teams. It was, quite simply, the most interesting jacket I've seen in a long time.

He started to turn his cart around, so now our paths were naturally crossing. I just couldn't help myself and said, "Hey, that's a really cool jacket." He smiled widely and replied, "Yeah, thanks. A lot of people like this jacket."

I proceeded to tell him that I'm a big baseball fan and just really liked his jacket. He said a lot of people want to know where he got his jacket, but all he knows is that his daughter got it for him. I would have asked him if I could take a picture, but I had forgotten my cell phone at home. (In hindsight, it probably would have been weird to ask him for a picture, but hey, at the time I did want the picture. Also, despite my Internet search, I've been unable to find that particular jacket online.)

I've given it some thought, and if I had seen somebody with that same type of jacket with modern Major League teams, it would have been overkill. What made this jacket so special was that it was bringing back a part of baseball history that more people should know about - the Negro Leagues.

When I was a kid first collecting baseball cards, one of my small card sets had Negro League players.  One particular card I always remembered was of "Cool Papa Bell." It was always interesting to see the Negro League cards as a kid, but they also made me a little confused, maybe even sad. I knew a little bit about segregation, and the Negro League cards always reminded me of that unfair history.

It's important to pay respect to the MLB players who broke the color barrier; and while the first ones were black, they really broke that barrier for all races of people. When you look at the major leagues today, with players from all over the globe, baseball really is the most diverse of the major American sports. And really, when I'm watching a baseball game, I'm not looking at a player's color. I'm looking at a player's performance. From an entertainment standpoint, I want to see the best players. Period.

I think another reason I liked that man's jacket so much was the timing. With this year's harsh Chicago winter giving way to spring's warmer weather, seeing his Negro Leagues jacket was yet another sign that baseball is back. Finally.

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