Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 

Diamond Gents

As a sports historian, I have been fortunate to meet or interview former ballplayers such as the late Wilmer Fields, Charlie Davis, Chuck Harmon, Vic Power, Nino Escalera, Camilio Pascual, Juan Pizzaro, Buck O'Neill, Luis Arroyo, Ruben Amaro, Orlando Pena, Cafe Salaborreos, Ramon Hernandez, "Wito" Conde, William "Sonny" Randall and Harold Gould. Vic Power, known in his native Puerto Rico as Victor Pellot, was kind enough to introduce me to several of these players when they were scouting an American Legion all-star game in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. A seven-time Gold Glove winning first baseman in the 1950's, Power was then an Angels' scout. I interviewed Escalera that day, and again later in his home in Valle Arriba Heights in Carolina, P.R. He was then chief of Latin American scouting for the San Francisco Giants (as a player, he and Chuck Harmon, who I met while living in Cincinnati, were the first two Blacks to play for the Cincinnati Reds). The former players I met or interviewed that day saw players such as Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar and Ruben Sierra when they were youngsters.

Mr. Randall, whom I recently met, not only played for the Homestead Grays and Washington Aztecs, he was a Great Lakes Naval teammate of Chuck Harmon, Larry Doby and John Wright. He and Wright used to go on shore leave together. John Wright was signed by the Dodgers when they signed Jackie Robinson. Randall is 89. He hit a 450-foot homer off Preacher Roe when he was in the Navy. He is retired from NASA, and also worked for three U.S. senators, including Howard Baker. In the mid-1990's I interviewed William Coward, a very engaging man who was a batboy for the Homestead Grays as a teenager. This interview was published in "Channel 32 Magazine", the program guide for Howard University Television. It appeared in conjunction with the PBS airing of Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball". Coward went on to become a punter at North Carolina College (now UNC-Central), where he befriended future Boston Celtics star Sam Jones. He was a successful high school basketball coach at Bell Vocational High in D.C., and more recently kicking coach for the Howard U. football team. He has even coached men's basketball there. Speaking of Boston, Mr. Coward coached the first Washington team to play in the schoolboy all-star tournament known as The Boston Shootout. Adrian Dantley played on his team.

Some of the highlights have been participating as a co-panelist in the Jewish Community Center's 1995-96 "Windows & Mirrors" cultural program, with Washington Post veteran Shirley Povich and filmmaker Aviva Kempner, speaking on the same program about Jackie Robinson at GWU's Charter Day with former Dodger pitcher Clem Labine, and being a surprise guest (in Spanish) on sports talk radio Radio Oro 780 in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. And in July 2002 I presented on "The Struggle of the Latin American Ballplayer" at the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. You'll not meet gentlemen with more kind souls than Messrs. Escalera, Power, Coward and Randall.

BCB

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