Players learn history before Double Duty Classic

Former big leaguer Singleton, Negro Leaguer Westfield offer perspective, advice

Players learn history before Double Duty Classic

CHICAGO -- Aaron Bond sat inside the auditorium at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday morning rapt with attention.

As one of the players taking part in the seventh annual Double Duty Classic, the high school senior-to-be from South Bend, Ind., learned some history about the Negro Leagues and soaked in some advice during a forum featuring former Major Leaguer Chris Singleton, former Birmingham Black Barons pitcher Ernie Westfield and Chicago author/historian Larry Lester.

It didn't even matter to Bond that he needed a search engine to learn more about Singleton, who broke into the Majors with the Chicago White Sox and is now an ESPN analyst.

"It was really cool and informative," said Bond, who plays for the Indiana Landsharks travel team in the summer and hopes to earn a college scholarship opportunity. "I learned a lot about history and just how to get a lot better as a player."

The forum coincided with the game at U.S. Cellular Field that headlines the annual event hosted by the White Sox to celebrate the history of Negro League baseball in Chicago and promote the game to the next generation of players from inner cities.

Singleton led the discussion, which touched on his own experiences and delved into the careers of several Negro League players -- including Westfield, who became the top pitcher for the Black Barons in the 1950s and '60s, not long after his release by the Chicago Cubs.

Bond was just one of the young faces in attendance who walked away with newfound knowledge, perspective and a smile on his face. Much of that information came during a Q&A session that followed the opening remarks.

Players formed a lengthy line to ask questions of the panelists, who were flanked by posters and photographs commemorating the history of the Negro Leagues. Topics included balancing the demands of a baseball schedule with other sports, the biggest obstacles to overcome on the path to the Majors and dealing with racism if it occurs.

"I was very impressed with just how attentive they were," Singleton said. "The questions they had were real questions, and they were thought-provoking questions. Sometimes you don't know. Are they going to fall asleep? Do they really care? But it seems like they were very intrigued by the history lesson they got."

It's a response Lester has seen before.

"Once they study the history, they get a better appreciation for the game," Lester said, while wearing the East replica jersey from the Negro League's famed East-West All-Star Game that Comiskey Park used to host. "It's hard to teach history to somebody who's 16 or 17 years old, because they don't see the relevancy of the importance of the struggles before them. As they get older, they have that foundation and they will start to understand the importance of these trials and tribulations that these Negro League players went through. That's a maturation process that comes not overnight, but step-by-step."

Eventually the legacies of all-time Negro League and Major League greats will take root inside the minds of young African-American players, Lester said. When that happens, the dreams and goals become even bigger.

"Pretty soon, they will realize, 'Wow, these great ballplayers ... if they can do it in a segregated society, what can I do in an integrated society?'" Lester said. "Besides Jackie Robinson, you've got Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks ... all of those players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now, but few people know they started their careers in the Negro Leagues, where they could've been ignored and unappreciated if Jackie hadn't broken the color barrier."

Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.