Nostalgia prevails at Double Duty Classic
West victory at U.S. Cellular Field evokes memories of Negro League All-Star Games
CHICAGO -- It started with chilly midsummer temperatures on Wednesday afternoon, followed by a storm that passed just to the south of U.S. Cellular Field, but the seventh annual Double Duty Classic still delivered some fond memories.
For avid baseball fans -- not to mention the 36 players -- the game went all nine innings and the West squad topped the East, 13-9, by overcoming four deficits.
Scouts seated behind home plate got to check out some talent, while history buffs also got a treat. The game provided a small sampling of what it might have been like at the former Negro League East-West All-Star Games that used to fill Comiskey Park.
"It felt like it," said the West's Josh Stowers, a junior at Chicago's Mount Carmel High School who is committed to Louisville and won MVP honors. "These uniforms are pretty sweet, to me. I like 'em. They have the whole Negro League feel and everything, so it was really cool to play here."
Each team was outfitted with authentic replica uniforms from those East-West games of the past and wooden bats were used, giving the game a throwback feel. Between a few at-bats there were even a few songs from the 1940s and '50s playing over the sound system.
In the crowd, at least two former Negro League players took in the action.
Ernie Westfield, who starred for the Birmingham Black Barons in the 1950s and was part of a morning panel discussion for the players and their families, sat right behind the plate. Along the left-field line, Al Spearman watched with a couple friends and reminisced about his own playing days. Spearman actually played on the Chicago American Giants for the man the game is named for, Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.
At the forum discussion in the morning, Westfield told a story of getting released by the Cubs after getting into a dugout altercation during a Minor League game over racist remarks made by his teammates.
Hours later, it still resonated with those who listened.
"I can't really imagine what they went through, because I don't really experience it nowadays," Stowers said. "I go to an integrated school and there's no racism at all, but it just shows how in [those days], when they experienced racism, they really had to turn the other cheek. They couldn't say anything back, and even if they didn't really do anything, they would still get punished."
In the game, West third baseman James Nelson sent one over the fence in left field in the second inning. News quickly spread through each dugout that it was the first over-the-fence home run in the event's history.
"It felt good coming off the bat," said Nelson, who drove 12 hours to Chicago on Monday with his family, all the way from Stone Mountain, Ga. "It was a curveball, a hanging curveball. I watched it a little bit. It was fun."
It also caused a stir in the opposing dugout.
East catcher Bryce Gray, a junior from nearby Homewood-Flossmoor High School, said it was one of his favorite memories -- aside from his own diving catch on a foul pop near the East's on-deck circle that brought the crowd to its feet.
"I think that home run was more memorable than anything else," Gray said, smiling. "First home run in the Double Duty Classic. That was a nice hit. Everything about this was such a great experience. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It's something most kids don't get an opportunity to do and I'm real grateful to the White Sox and everybody here. It was just a great experience all the way around."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.