Air Date: Weds. November 11, 2009
Time:9 PM C/10 PM E/7 PM P
Call-in Number: 646-652-4593
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Topic: A Field Of Dreams & Possibilities: Reviving Negro League Baseball
Photo By Leah Lauber
Baseball Mogul In The Making: Bro. Thomas English
Thomas English: A Man Single-Handedly Tries To Revive The Negro Baseball League
By Leah Lauber
Originally Featured @ This Link:
ST. PETERSBURG - "Negro Baseball is back!" reads a hand-painted van parked outside Thomas English's one-room office.
Inside, it takes a minute to adjust from the early-afternoon sunlight to the office lit by one window, but then, the wall lined with four bulletin boards of the Negro Baseball League's history comes into focus. It is typed in chronological order, hand-cut, and glued onto sheets of black paper attached to the boards. There are black-and-white photocopied pictures attached.
Photo By Leah Lauber
Sitting behind a desk on the phone, English pulls a pen from his Duncan-Hines frosting container to jot down a note, which he then tacks onto a bulletin board behind him. Though the desk looks cluttered, English seems to know where everything is, as he pulls out papers from a folder in one of the piles on his desk.
He is working to revive segregated baseball - though English says it's not the segregation part of the game he wants. Established in 2006, the Returning Negro Baseball to Inner-cities (RNBI) is aimed at bringing back the entertainment of the Negro Baseball League from the early 1900s. English says the Negro Baseball League games had more rhythm than the major leagues and described the players as the "Harlem Globetrotters of Baseball".
English, 47, who started playing at the age of 42, grew up hating baseball. He played football as a kid, but was inspired to start the RNBI after learning of the rich history of Negro Baseball. With a vast, but incomplete, knowledge of the league, English says there is still plenty of history nobody will ever know about, and he wants to get as many people interested as possible.
Reaching out to inner-city kids is how English wants to bring back the league. He says he can't have the programs that start kids young and have them grow up with the sport, like most little leagues do.
He has no staff or set coaches and says he is in the streets recruiting kids, many of whom have no guidance from their parents. Describing how he drops off the players at home after practice, English said, "I meet more parents' arms than parents. Parents who just hold the door open and don't care to meet me. A lot of them depend on me to mentor their kids."
Right now, English is trying to secure funding for his leagues. In the past, he's received support from some big companies, like Tampa Electric (TECO) and Brighthouse Networks, and from smaller businesses and individuals, but it's still not enough. He has applied for grants, but is still having trouble generating enough money to properly fund the league.
English says he has been kicked out of apartments because he spent his own rent money to buy uniforms and balls for kids. Currently, he's allowed to trade his office space in exchange for working as the security guard of the building.
"Ain't nobody out there but me and Jesus," he says of recruiting his teams. His players are younger than 15 and English makes sure to keep them in line. He won't allow players to act up and he doesn't allow "thugs" who could negatively influence other team members. "If you act right, you can be a part of this. If you don't, you can't. You can't pollute the good kids' minds," he said.
In Largo, English already has a team set up, and practices with them every Tuesday. He would hold more practices, but gas prices make it impossible to get out there more often.
The team is called the "Largo Giants", named after the "Cuban Giants," which English claims was the first and most feared African American team.
He explained the reason for "Cuban" in the name: the players had to disguise themselves as Hispanic in order for anyone to play them.
English has about 20 players on that team, 15 of which are under 12 years old. He is working hard to create teams in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
He has the players and uniforms, but English is having trouble scheduling games with "normal" little leagues. He says he has called every league in the phone book but nobody will return his calls. "If you aren't as good as they are, they don't want to play you. If you're better than they are, they don't want to play you," he said.
English's ultimate goal is to get the inner-city kids playing in the major leagues when they're older. "I want to bring up the next generation of Josh Gibsons, who had more homeruns than anyone," he said. "You've got kids just as good as [players in the old Negro Baseball League]. These guys aren't coming back - they're dead. But we've got the next generation of these guys."
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