Negro Player Remembers Life With America's Pastime (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Negro League Player Remembers A Life With America's Favorite Pastime

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today our theme is Commitment. We've already heard the tale of a bride whose commitment to the environment is leading to some rather unexpected choices as she walks down the aisle this weekend. And coming up, we'll find out why so many exercise-minded Washingtonians are joining what's being called The Cult of Crossfit.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:29
First, though, we turn to a different sort of athletic commitment. Eloyd Robinson used to play baseball on some pretty big time fields. And though he put done his bat and glove many years ago and now works as a security guard, as Jessica Gould tells us, Robinson hasn't strayed far from his beloved sport.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

00:00:48
As twilight falls on Yards Park in Southeast D.C., Eloyd Robinson begins his rounds.

MR. ELOYD ROBINSON

00:00:55
Well, it's a new and upcoming area and we try to make it peaceful so when people come on site that they will enjoy themselves and go away and tell their friends so that they'll come by.

GOULD

00:01:05
With his path illuminated by the glow of nearby Nationals Stadium, Robinson walks along the waterfront shining a flashlight left and right.

ROBINSON

00:01:14
The park closes at 10:00 and I have to make sure there's nobody in the park at 10:00.

GOULD

00:01:18
He checks park benches for couples cuddling in the moonlight and ushers dog walkers away from the carefully tended grass. But most of the time, he says, it's quiet.

ROBINSON

00:01:29
They're all real nice people so I couldn't think of a better job than down here.

GOULD

00:01:34
Well, except for maybe one job. Robinson grew up in Danville, Va. across the street from a baseball field.

ROBINSON

00:01:41
Back in those days, we hadn't much to do, but play baseball.

GOULD

00:01:44
And according to his mother he was hooked from the start.

ROBINSON

00:01:47
Yes, she said, I'd run in a ball they were rolling.

GOULD

00:01:51
At 14, he began playing semi-pro.

ROBINSON

00:01:53
First team that come, I'd go with them, they'd pay me $5 to play with them, which was a lot of money back in those days.

GOULD

00:01:59
And in 1948, at 18 years old, Robinson joined a Negro League team, the Homestead Graze.

ROBINSON

00:02:06
They came to Danville in '48 for their spring training there at the park and I went over there, you know, I thought I was pretty good. I went over there and then I made the team.

GOULD

00:02:18
Robinson says he can still remember the sound of the crowd and the smell of the hotdogs at his first pro game in Griffith Stadium here in D.C.

ROBINSON

00:02:26
Yes, well, you know, I was excited just looking around at all their space they had. I had never been in a ballpark that big with that many seats in it before and I was just excited about that. And after I got over that park overwhelming, we just settled down and started playing baseball.

GOULD

00:02:42
Robinson went on to play second base for the Jacksonville Eagles and the Sherman-Denison Twins. He was the third African American to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

ROBINSON

00:02:52
I used to spend hours after games signing autographs, my arm would be so sore.

GOULD

00:02:57
Robinson says his baseball years were some of the happiest of his life.

ROBINSON

00:03:01
Boy, I enjoyed it. I couldn't wait. I never wanted the game to end. I wanted to just keep playing.

GOULD

00:03:06
But not all of his memories are pleasant ones. For example, Robinson remembers road trips to the segregated South.

ROBINSON

00:03:13
You know, you couldn't eat in restaurants with the teammates. You'd have to go around to the back.

GOULD

00:03:18
Then while the white players slept in hotels, Robinson says black players often slept on couches in black families' homes or worse.

ROBINSON

00:03:27
There was a town, especially out Midwest, where there weren't many black families and we would stay in firehouses and jails.

GOULD

00:03:36
In the late '50s and early '60s, Robinson went to Canada where he played for the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Saskatoon Commodores. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and Robinson remembers watching protestors clash with police on TV.

ROBINSON

00:03:50
They were showing all of this stuff that was going on down South where they're putting the hoses and the dogs on people down there. And the people that we were visiting, they asked us why did we want to come back to the States with them treating us like that over here.

GOULD

00:04:04
But Robinson says he missed his friends and family.

ROBINSON

00:04:08
I'd actually get so homesick I used to go in the stores to look at the linen that they made in my hometown, Danville Mills. There was a big fabric company at that particular time. I used to just go in and run my hand through the towels and the sheets and things in the department stores.

GOULD

00:04:23
So in 1961, Robinson retired from baseball and returned to the States. For a while, he worked at rec centers coaching sports and handing out equipment. He was a guard at the D.C. jail and a property manager. For the past seven years, he's been doing security. Now, at 81, Robinson says it's tough to sit through an entire game, but his boss did treat him a night at the stadium last summer.

ROBINSON

00:04:47
It's beautiful, you know. I never stay at a game over three or four innings, but I enjoyed that whole nine innings of that game. It was real nice over there.

GOULD

00:04:56
And he has some advice for this year's team.

ROBINSON

00:04:59
To keep winning, keep winning. I told my buddy we're going to try to get our World Series tickets before they sell out. I think they're that good.

GOULD

00:05:08
After all, for Robinson, the roar of the crowd and the crack of a bat hitting a ball will always sound a lot like home. I'm Jessica Gould.
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