This is posted as part of our Summer Intern Blog Series. Be sure to come back each week as interns from around the country share their summer experiences with us!
By: Lauren Benda, @LaurenBenda
Ted Rasberry was, and still is, a Negro League Legend. Ted was raised in West Point, Mississippi and was one of six children growing up. His early education years took place in a one-room schoolhouse, which was quite typical for that era. During his middle school days he would try to convince his classmates to help him cut out a baseball diamond on the school’s playground. In high school he realized that his love of baseball was too much to not pursue a career in the sport.
Ted attended MIC in West Point and later returned to Hopewell Cedar Bluff to teach sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Ted’s desire to invest in the lives of the local children led to opening the first boys and girls club in the area. In 1935 Ted moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and there he lived with his uncle who encouraged him to play baseball whenever he could. Even though no encouragement was usually needed.
In 1944, a factory team sought Ted’s assistance on the local baseball diamonds, and while playing there for a few years he helped organize the Grand Rapids Black Sox. Ted tried to bring a team from his hometown Grand Rapids into the Negro Leagues but ran into the problem of the town being too small at the time. Throughout careful consideration, he decided to bring the Detroit Stars into the league. Mr. Davies, a New Orleans businessman, bought into the team, which led to the name Detroit-New Orleans Stars. However, in the end, they ended up being known as the Detroit Stars. Ted was also the manager and owner of the Kansas City Monarchs from 1956–1961.
From 1971–1984, Ted was the director of the Kent Community Action Program and in March of 2000, the Grand Rapids Board of Education voted to change the name of one of its baseball fields to honor Rasberry for the work he had done with the Grand Rapids youth.
Fast forward to 2015 and the city of Grand Rapids still owned Ted Rasberry field. During that year, the Whitecaps Community Foundation applied for a grant from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund to have the field renovated. After a long process and several meetings, they received a grant for $55,000 to renovate Ted Rasberry field.
This all started because one person got frustrated that someone’s economic status decided if they could play baseball or be a part of something during the summer months when they didn’t have school. During the summer months the West Michigan Whitecaps partner with the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and run the Inner City Youth Baseball and Softball league. This league will be the first league to play baseball on Ted Rasberry field in over 20 years.
This year the West Michigan Whitecaps hosted a rededication of Ted Rasberry Field. I can’t say I did a lot of the difficult planning, but I was in charge of getting the giant scissors to cut the ribbon with. Those are definitely fun, because how often do you get to handle giant scissors? However, I can say I saw a bunch of the work going on and I was there to help set the event up. It made me admire my boss and gave me a new insight into what hard work is, and at the end of the day we aren’t doing this for the Whitecaps, the YMCA or even ourselves personally. It’s all for the kids, and for Ted Rasberry.
The day before the event we had Intern Volunteer Day. All of the West Michigan Whitecaps interns participate in cleaning up or helping with a project in the Grand Rapids Area, and this year we cleaned up Ted Rasberry field. We worked from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. pulling weeds, cleaning up trash and our grounds crew worked hard on cleaning up the dug outs (I’ll write more about the entire West Michigan Whitecaps internship program later, stay tuned).
The day of the event, which was a rededication that involved a ribbon cutting and press conference was quite interesting…to say the least. My boss and I got to the field around 9, and we decided that we would be the grounds crew for the day and water the field with the new hose bib that was installed the day before. Everything was going smoothly and we watered the field, got all of our stuff set up and were ready to leave to finish getting ready for the event until we tried to take the hose bib out. At that moment, the whole entire thing decided to come out of the ground and basically create a geyser on the third base line. It was a hot mess, but we got the water shut off and fixed the problem. We thought on our feet, and moved on from the situation after a few laughs and moments of what the heck just happened.
The rest of the day went smoothly and the whole day was beautiful. We listened to Johnathan Pope of the YMCA, Lew Chamberlin of the West Michigan Whitecaps, Cathy Bradley of Baseball Tomorrow Fund and lastly we heard Ted Rasberry’s niece Minnie Forbes share real insight on who Ted was a player and a person. We cut the ribbon and had the 2015 players of the year from our Inner City Youth Baseball and Softball League throw ceremonial first pitches on the field.
Through the Inner City Youth Baseball and Softball league, the kids get equipment that is donated through an equipment drive. The kids also receive a jersey, hat and a meal every game. This year the meals will be made at the YMCA and will be delivered directly to the children during their games. Kids also get to play for free, and the money raised at the Whitecaps Community Foundation Winter Banquet goes to funding the league.
To learn more about what the Whitecaps are working on this year, check out https://whitecapscommunityfoundation.org/