SARASOTA, Fla. – If legends from the past of baseball could still round the bases, John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil would be here.
“Baseball was his life, he wanted to be a baseball player. When he got that urge and energy, he pursued it, and it was going to be all or nothing,” said Walter Gilbert.
Buck O’Neil was the grandson of slaves. He grew up in Sarasota during the 1920s. The opportunities were few and far between O’Neil.
“Buck grew up here in Sarasota like a poor little black boy, running around these dirt streets and jumping in ditches without shoes on just like any Newtown or Overtown resident. But Buck was an athletic person and he wanted to be a baseball player all the time. “He pursued it and he pursued it at all costs, even though there were major obstacles at the time,” Gilbert said.
Baseball was his dream. Due to segregation, he left Sarasota to play high school baseball in Jacksonville.
O’Neil ended up playing in the Negro League. He became a star with the Kansas City Monarchs. O’Neil became manager of the team. While never playing in the Major League, he became the first black coach in Major League Baseball.
“His obstacles were enormous. The times he lived in the things he had to endure to become who he became,” Gilbert said.
Buck O’Neil’s story is now on display at the Robert L Taylor Community Complex. It’s on loan from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City. O’Neil helped establish the museum. The collection shows barriers shattered by O’Neil and his teammates.
“People come here and they actually see the screen and read it. We have a video about Negro League Baseball. You want to see what these people went through just to do what everyone else took for granted,” Gilbert said.
Walter Gilbert’s father grew up with O’Neil. He became a role model.
“He’s a great character in American history, he’s a great character in Sarasota history. He’s a huge character in Newtown history, since he was a person who grew up here and lived here most of his life, his value is measurable, “said Gilbert.
O’Neil’s fate never won. His story is a lesson that everyone can learn from.
“Mr. O’Neil was a person who had a dream, pursued that dream and took that dream to its highest point,” Gilbert said.
Sponsored by the Baltimore Orioles, the exhibition “Buck O’Neil: Right on Time” will be shown from February. March 20-20. It will be open from 10 to 17 at the Robert L Taylor Community Complex. The show can be seen daily except Sundays.
The event is presented by the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition. An opening ceremony begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2. 20.
In addition to the traveling exhibit, the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition plans to uncover a mural and add Buck O’Neil’s name to the fields in Newtown Estates Park.
CONNECTING TO FOX 13: