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

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Security Guard Eloyd Robinson patrols Yards Park, a few blocks away from The Nationals' stadium.
Jessica Gould
Security Guard Eloyd Robinson patrols Yards Park, a few blocks away from The Nationals' stadium.

As twilight falls on Yards Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood of Southeast D.C., Eloyd Robinson begins his rounds. With his path illuminated by the glow of the nearby Nationals' stadium, Robinson walks along the waterfront, shining a flashlight left and right.

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. "No one gives us problems," he says. "I couldn't think of a better job than down here."

Well, except for maybe one job. Robinson grew up in Danville, Va., across the street from a baseball field. "Back in those days we didn't have too much to do but play baseball," he says.

And, according to his mother, he was hooked from the start.

"Oh yeah, she said I'd run at any ball that was rolling," he recalls.

At age 14, he started playing semi-pro. "They'd pay me about $5, which was a lot of money in those days," he says.

And, in 1948 at 18 years old, Robinson joined a Negro League team, the Homestead Grays.

"They came to Danville in '48 for their spring training at the park, and I went over there, and I made the team," he says.

Robinson says he can still remember the sound of the crowd and the smell of the hotdogs at his first pro-game, at Griffith Stadium in D.C.

"I was excited just looking around," says Robinson. "I'd never been in a ballpark that big with that many seats before. And I was just excited about that."

Robinson went on to play second base for the Jacksonville Eagles and the Sherman Denison Twins. He says he was the third African American to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, where he played with their farm team.

"I would spend hours after games signing autographs," he says. "My arm would be so sore."

Robinson says his baseball years were some of the happiest of his life. "I enjoyed it," he says. "I couldn't wait. I never wanted a game to end."

But not all of his memories are pleasant ones. For example, Robinson remembers road trips to the segregated south.

"Sometimes restaurants would have an area around the back for us to eat," he says. Then, while the white players slept in hotels, Robinson says black players often slept on couches in black families' homes. Or worse.

"If there was a town, especially out west, if there weren't any black families, we would stay in firehouses, jails, anywhere we could sleep and change our clothes," he says.

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 television.

"They were showing all these things that were happening down south, with the hoses and the dogs on people down there," he says. "And people we were visiting there they asked us why we wanted to come back to the states with them treating us like that down here."

But Robinson says he missed his friends and family. "I used to go in the stores and look at the linen they made in my hometown at Danville Mills. I used to run my hands through the towels and sheets and things in the department stores."

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. At age 81, Robinson says it's tough to sit through entire games these days. But his boss did treat him to a night at the stadium last summer.

"Oh it's beautiful," he says. "I never stay at a game more than two or three innings, but I enjoyed the whole nine."

And he has some advice for this year's team: "Keep winning," he says. "I told my buddy, we're going to try to get our World Series tickets before they sell out. It think they're that good."

[Music: "The Majors: The Mind is a Strange Thing" by Randy Newman from The Natural]


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