The love of left field

Jackie Robinson’s promotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers was major news. The banner headline in the April 11, 1947, edition of the Asheville Citizen read: “Dodgers sign first Negro player in majors.” The wire story that followed reported that “most baseball men agree that the lithe Negro not only will stay up, but probably become a star.”

Local baseball fans were soon able to judge for themselves.

Less than a year after Robinson broke the color barrier, he and his pennant-winning teammates paid a visit to McCormick Field to take on the Asheville Tourists in back-to-back exhibition games. Robinson was joined in Asheville by Roy Campanella, another future Hall-of-Famer, and the second African-American in the big leagues.

For three days, the Asheville Citizen was peppered with stories about the big, bad Brooklyn Dodgers’ visit to Asheville. More than 9,000 people packed McCormick during those two games, and while the Dodgers won both handily, the Citizen reported that at least one section of fans were root, root, rooting for something other than the home team.

The paper stated that Robinson, “received a resplendent ovation from the left field bleachers. The fact that he flied out to deep left field in his first appearance made little difference to the approximately 2,000 Negro fans attending.”

The game might have been integrated, but the ball parks, including McCormick and its left-field bleachers, were still years away from casting off segregation.

Red Miller, the Citizen‘s sports editor, wrote that Robinson turned in “a brilliant performance at his second base position,” while also noting that Robinson went hitless in the two games.

But its easy to imagine that for the fans in the left-field bleachers, Robinson’s very appearance at McCormick’s home plate was a blow to old Jim Crow — and a grand slam for Asheville’s African-American community.

— Brian Sarzynski

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