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Posted on January 23, 2020 at 3:08 PM by Sharon Hoggard
It's not too late to say, Happy New Year, is it? Hope not. We're still getting back in the swing of things.
As you might know, the city's goal at Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum (PCCLM) is to have an exhibit, in the south half of its gallery, that rotates every other year. We’re hoping to open the next exhibit a year from now in January of 2021.
Museum history curators have been compiling research about America's pastime . . . baseball. African-American baseball in Portsmouth, to be specific. We’re hoping to make the next PCCLM rotating exhibit about the legacy of black baseball right here in Portsmouth during the post-WWII era, which is the era when PCCLM was a functioning library (1945 – 1963).
Except for a slim chapter on local black baseball in the Arcadia Publishing book called Baseball in Portsmouth, Virginia, curators have to start from scratch. Our hero in this story so far has been Lawrence Owes, a longtime member of the Museum and Fine Arts Commission, who has been funneling us the names and contact information of people who have been sharing their wealth of knowledge and personal memories of black baseball as played at all levels here in the 1940s – 1960s and more recently.
We’ve been documenting the names of well-known local players, some of whom went on to play in the Negro Leagues and even Major League Baseball (after integration). But there have also been endearing stories of the importance of the local little leagues, offering generations of kids the chance to swing a bat.
At this stage, we’re still looking for information! So, if the names Joseph “Mickey” Brown, Brooks Lawrence, or Buck Leonard mean something to you, please tell us what you know! And if you have heard of the Belleville Grays, the Gilmerton Esquires, the Twin Pine Tigers or the Churchland White Sox, give us the scoop! If you can put us in touch with folks who might have some stories to share, or some items to exhibit, please pass along their contact information.
Next January, we’re hoping visitors will take an “intentional walk” through our baseball exhibit. But for now, please spread the word to anyone you might know that we’re looking for information, memories, and artifacts that will help take us out to the old ball game.
Pictured below on the left is Mickey Brown with two unnamed players in their “PORTS” uniforms. Brown was a switch-pitching phenom, who at one point played for the Portsmouth Fire Fighters, a well-known local team made up of players who weren’t necessarily firefighters, but who were great ball players. Local resident Sam Warren told us, “When we talked about baseball, it wasn’t Mickey Mantle, it was Mickey Brown.
Got some old Portsmouth baseball stories? Call Diane Cripps at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum at 757-393-8591 or email her at [email protected].