The Detroit Tigers kicked off its 17th annual Negro Leagues Weekend this past Friday, but it did not come without its fair share of challenges. With restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, it forced the ballclub to create a virtual celebration for this year’s installment.
The festivities began with the “Passing the Bat” ceremony, a tradition the ballclub has continued since 2008. The event, which pays homage to the history and contributions of African-Americans to the game of baseball, was held virtually this year, showcasing footage from past recipients, and commenced with showcasing this year’s winner Werner Blakely Jr. Blakely Jr., a fourth-round pick in the 2020 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, is a native Detroiter.
In addition to the ceremony, the Tigers made digital baseball cards of Negro League players who never had their cards printed for fans to view. Some of the cards made available included players from the Detroit Stars, such as Turkey Stearnes, Andy Cooper, and Bill Holland. The homage to the Detroit Stars––Detroit’s Negro League team——didn’t stop there.
On Saturday, the Detroit Tigers Foundation renamed one of its Tiny Tigers teams the “Detroit Stars” for the remainder of the 2020 season at a special jersey reveal event at Detroit PAL. Orchestrating the series of tributes was a challenge for the ballclub, but Tigers VP of Marketing Ellen Hill Zeringue understood the importance of keeping tradition in place.
“It was a little bit of a challenge, but we got creative,” said Zeringue. “One of the things that we realized is that there’s so much content, right? I mean, the history of the Negro Leagues is so prolific that it gave us an opportunity. There was a great platform for us to work with.”
With professional sports leagues such as the NBA leading the charge in bringing social awareness initiatives to the forefront while highlighting African Americans’ contributions to their sport, the Tigers organization didn’t feel any extra pressure to deliver the event as usual.
“This tradition is part of who we are as the Detroit Tigers. And we will always celebrate the legacy of the Negro Leagues”, said Zeringue.
“What we hope [is] that with all of the focus on social justice, that maybe we’re getting new eyes. We’re getting new people coming to our platforms who are learning about the Negro Leagues, who may not have been interested before. And also because we’re doing everything virtually, this gives us a wider net, right? I hope that in this particular moment in our country, we’re giving people another avenue to learn about the amazing legacy of African Americans.”
The Tigers ended its weekend celebration with a pregame video tribute ahead of their matchup at Comerica Park against the Cleveland Indians. Both teams wore commemorative patches honoring the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. Although the weekend celebration has commenced, the Tigers plan to honor the Negro Leagues and the Detroit Stars for the rest of the year.
“We’re planning a few more activities that we’re not yet ready to go public,” said Zeringue. “We’re going to be very sensitive about making sure that we continue to tell this story and that we use this landmark here to amplify again, the wonderful legacy of the Negro Leagues and the Detroit Stars. I know some things are being planned around the historic Hamtramck Stadium. So there’s more to come.”
Part of the initiatives Zeringue alluded to involve their organization becoming more active in the inner city and community. They also plan to do this while growing its youth baseball programming, and creating new fans.