Black History Month Day 1: Tuskegee-Morehouse Split Historic Opener
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA ( Cascade Publishing House) It was a cold and blustery day. Intermittent rain fell from the sky, some of the droplets appeared like snowflakes as they swirled and floated to the turf in the ballpark once home for the Montgomery Rebels in the old Southern League. The combatants lined up along their respective baselines, the national anthem played over the public address system, and the umpires went over the ground rules. There would be no banging on trash cans, and signs, if stolen, had to employ the old fashion technique perfected during twentieth-century baseball.
About 100 students, alumni, and parents of the players shivered in the stands as they gathered to watch an old baseball rivalry that dates back to the 1890s. Several hundred thousand fans laid silent in the Oakview Cemetery, looking upon the action from beyond the leftfield foul line. Oakview had interned Union soldiers captured at Shilo in 1862, who died, imprisoned in Montgomery before Lee surrendered Confederate troops in 1865.
It was opening day for the 2020 baseball season. The teams brought plenty of fireworks in their aluminum bats to warm the crowd.
The home team, Tuskegee University, started playing baseball in 1893. They scheduled the game at Paterson Field because Washington Field on campus had not had an overhaul since James Washington and William C. Matthews landscaped it in the nineteenth century. The home of the Golden Tigers is currently undergoing a long-overdue renovation.
Morehouse College, the visitors, drove over from Atlanta, Georgia, where they have played baseball since the mid-1880s. Tuskegee and Morehouse started competing on the baseball diamond a few years before Plessy v. Ferguson (1895) was made law, over a hundred years before America elected its first Black person President.
A Savante Williams struck out two and retired the third Morehouse batter on a fly ball to the left fielder in the top half of the first inning. Then Ronald McGee, Tuskegee’s senior catcher, powered the Golden Tigers with a mammoth solo home run to left-center field.
By the fourth inning, Tuskegee was cruising along with a 5–0 lead before Morehouse could get on the board. Morehouse then made it a 5–3 ball game. Tuskegee answered, going up 7–3.
At the bottom of the fifth, McGee came up with runners on first and second with no outs. Tuskegee Head Baseball Coach Reginald Hollins asked his power hitter to sacrifice himself and move both runners into scoring position. McGee laid down a perfect bunt, and both runners moved up a base, and eventually scored, expanding Tuskegee’s lead to 9–3.
At the top of the seventh and final inning — The game was shortened by tradition because the teams played a doubleheader — Morehouse loaded the bases with two outs. Grant Bennett came to the plate and hit a grand slam bringing the score to 9–7. Williams struck out the next batter, his ninth of the contest, to end the game.
In the night-cap, Morehouse exploded for three home runs. Grant Bennett, who started the second game on the mound for the Maroon Tigers, kept the Tuskegee bats quiet. While on the offensive side, Bennett hit two homers. The first one with the bases loaded and later a solo shot. Bennett drove in a total of nine runs in the two contests, with three home runs.
Daniel Munford blasted a three-run homer. The duo, Bennett and Munford, led Morehouse to an 8–3 victory. Morehouse scored all of its runs via the home run.
After the first game, Coach Hollins said, “It feels great” to get the first victory of the season.
“Like I told the guys, I love a win. We pretty much dominated the first portion of the game. Our defense played solid. They made the routine plays, Hollin said.
He added, “I thought Williams did a good job on the mound, all of his pitches were working, and he had a low pitch count, which is good for him.”
Hollin praised the offensive display from McGee, “He went two for two and had two sacs” [sacrifice bunts].
McGee’s work behind the plate caught the attention of Morehouse Coach Tony Grissom. In between innings, Grissom said to Hollin: “I told my guys not to mess with that catcher.”
Indeed, despite several speedy runners, Morehouse did not attempt to steal any bases.
Following the second game, Grissom smiled broadly. He picked up his first win of the season. Before the match, Grissom bemoaned the fact rainy weather kept his team indoors all but three days in January.
“I’m just happy for the guys. I thought they bounced back well after the first game. They are growing in poise, and I was glad to see that,” Grissom said.
Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.