SAN ANTONIO – This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the start of National League Baseball, which began in 1920.
In 1949, nearly two decades after that sports milestone, the South Texas Negro League was created and much of the talent played on teams in San Antonio at Pittman-Sullivan Park.
KSAT-TV EXTRA: Extended interviews with the players featured in the story above
For Nelson Swain, being back at Pittman-Sullivan Park on Iowa Street makes him nostalgic. It’s the exact field where Swain played the position of third baseman for the South Texas Negro League team, known as the San Antonio Yankees, starting back in 1964.
“We didn’t have the beautiful grass and the smooth surfaces to play on and everything,” Swain said.
But between using the field for practice and games, the rough terrain gave Swain and his Yankees teammate Rufus Miller the toughness they needed to persevere, and play against white teams that had better resources.
“I was an all-star… I was from the West Side and it gave us another insight as far as we got to travel to the East Side every Tuesday and Thursday for practice,” Miller said.
Miller also played for the San Antonio Black Sox, and Denver Heights Bears. Black Sox teammate Lawrence Johnson shared similar reflections about the field where friendships were forged so long ago.
“Baseball was number one,” Johnson said. "...I mean all of us was friends. We weren’t strangers because we all kind of grew up together and learned how to play to play the game.”
Baseball became increasingly integrated in the following decades, and the South Texas Negro League came to an end circa 1975. As football and basketball gained popularity, the former baseball players say they noticed a decline in Blacks represented in the sport, and subsequently a decline in young black children being interested.
“Coming up, you could talk about Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, you know, Stretch McCovey,” Johnson said.
Now all in their 70′s, the longtime friends say reviving enthusiasm for baseball amongst young black children is simple.
“They really need Black athletes, Black major league baseball players,” Johnson said.
Today Pittman-Sullivan Park serves as a recreational space for kids from all backgrounds. It sits on a legacy created decades ago, back when for some, it was one of the only options.
The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum has a digital exhibit on Negro League Baseball Happening right now.
For more information, call 210-274-3350, or email admin at saaacam.org.
KSAT-TV EXTRA: St. Mary’s University student details career of Negro League baseball player from Texas who went on to have great success with the Kansas City Monarchs and other teams.