SAN ANTONIO – This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of National League Baseball, which started in 1920.
In 1949, almost two decades after the sporting milestone, the South Texas Negro League was created, and much of the talent played on teams in San Antonio at Pittman-Sullivan Park.
Being back in Pittman-Sullivan Park on Iowa Street makes him nostalgic for Nelson Swain. This is the exact field where Swain played the position of third baseman for the South Texas Negro League team, known as the San Antonio Yankees, from 1964.
“We did not have the beautiful grass and the slippery surfaces to play on and everything,” said Swain.
But between using the field for training and games, the tough terrain gave Swain and his Yankees teammate Rufus Miller the toughness they needed to endure, and play against white teams that had better resources.
“I was an all-star … I was from the West Side, and it gave us a new insight as far as we had to travel to the East Side every Tuesday and Thursday to practice,” Miller said.
Miller also played for the San Antonio Black Sox and Denver Heights Bears. Black Sox teammate Lawrence Johnson shared similar reflections on the field where friendships were forged so long ago.
“Baseball was number one,” Johnson said. “… I mean we were all friends. We were not strangers because we all grew up together and learned to play to play the game.”
Baseball became increasingly integrated in the following decades, and the South Texas Negro League ended around 1975. As football and basketball became popular, the former baseball players say they noticed a decline in blacks represented in the sport, and then a decline in small black children are interested.
“When you get up, you can talk about Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, you know, Stretch McCovey,” Johnson said.
Now in the 70’s, the longtime friends say reviving enthusiasm for baseball among young black children is easy.
“They really need black athletes, black baseball baseball players,” Johnson said.
Today, Pittman-Sullivan Park serves as a recreation area for children from all backgrounds. It sits on a legacy that was created decades ago, when for some it was one of the only alternatives.
The San Antonio African American Archive and Community Museum has a digital exhibit on Negro League Baseball Happening right now.
For more information, call 210-274-3350, or email the administrator at saaacam.org.
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