Baseball, with a little history, at Double Duty Classic
By Mike Clark firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2014 9:00PM
DeAnthony Baker of the West Allstars tags out Nick Shumpert of the East in the Double Duty Classic Wednesday at US Cellular Field. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 27, 2014 8:22AM
Before they took the field for Wednesday’s Double Duty Classic at U.S. Cellular Field, Josh Stowers and AJ Lewis had a history lesson.
They heard about life in the Negro Leagues from one of its players, Ernie Westfield, a pitcher who started the last East-West All-Star Game in 1960 at Comiskey Park.
Before he starred for the Birmingham Black Barons, though, Westfield had been scouted and signed by Buck O’Neil for the Cubs. At the forum before the Double Duty Classic — won 13-8 by the West over the East — Westfield talked about getting released by the Cubs when he was with their farm team in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
According to Westfield, his team was playing a club with a black pitcher. “A couple players in our dugout started using the ‘N-word,’ ” Westfield said, leading to a confrontation and, “we all got shipped out (soon after).”
“I really can’t imagine what they went through because I don’t experience it nowadays,” said Stowers, a rising senior at Mount Carmel. “I go to an integrated school where there’s really no racism at all.”
Stowers and Lewis, who will be a junior at Mount Carmel in the fall, appreciate the sacrifices made by Westfield and his fellow Negro Leaguers.
“I’m thankful for it, I truly am,” Lewis said. “I’m glad that he did that for me to be able to play in this game. If it wasn’t for those guys, I probably wouldn’t even be picking up a baseball right now. I feel like I’d play basketball or football like most inner-city kids do.”
Instead, he and Stowers, who committed to Louisville, play baseball — and at a high level, too.
Stowers was named the Double Duty Classic’s Most Valuable Player after going 2-for-5 with a double and two runs in the West’s win. Lewis was 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI for the West, which came from behind four times in the back-and-forth contest.
“When the game first started, when all the little Park District kids came out and were screaming, that was really fun,” Stowers said. “I had a great time, I was laughing in the dugout and everything.”
Ditto for Lewis, who was 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI. This was his second time taking part in the Double Duty Classic, though just his first appearance.
“The one last year, I didn’t even get in,” Lewis said. “I was just the bullpen catcher, and it still stuck with me. To be able to play in this one more time next year is amazing. I wish I could keep it going.”
He was impressed not just by what he heard from Westfield, Negro Leagues historian Larry Lester and former MLB player and current broadcaster Chris Singleton at Wednesday’s forum. Also making an impression was a Tuesday visit to the DuSable Museum of African American History and its baseball exhibits.
All told, the other activities gave Stowers and Lewis plenty of motivation — and perspective.
“It just shows that in the Negro Leagues, when they experienced racism, they really had to turn the other cheek,” Stowers said. “They couldn’t say anything back. And even if they didn’t do anything (wrong), they would still get punished. ...
“It shows that even through hardships, people can still make it. And it gives me inspiration to keep playing, because I know there’s not a lot of black players in Major League Baseball, and that’s just my goal — to play in Major League Baseball.”