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Countys first Black ball parks are going, going, gone

“If they threw the ball right, that dude was out.”

Nannie ‘Lady’ Patton Haynes

 

With the warming weather comes the familiar call of “play ball!” Spring practice is in full swing on baseball fields all over Williamson County. Colleges are well into their season, the first pitch for area high schools will be thrown Monday and the season opener for the Big Leagues is March 31.

Baseball started in the mid-19th century and it wasn’t long before it became popular with the young and old, rich and poor, black and white folks.

According to Thelma Battle, the county’s go-to historian on African-American history, by the 1890s baseball had become one of the most popular sports among local African Americans. Since Blacks were barred from Major League Baseball, they formed their own league. They were also barred from playing on local recreational teams and from playing on local ball fields throughout Williamson County so local Black baseball enthusiasts created their own baseball fields and teams.

Members of the Black community found a way to “play ball.” In some areas of the county, community members either pooled resources to purchase land for a diamond or landowners shared a portion of their own property with the baseball enthusiasts.

“Blacks [in Franklin] weren’t allowed to go to the county center [behind the Carter House off Fowlkes Street] so they bought a lot from Bob Rucker,” said Rick Warwick, former history teacher and now county historian.

In September 1954, the Rev. W.F. Scruggs, George Harris, Alex Bright Jr., T.J. Myers, J.R. Watkins, Frank Claiborne, Henry Hardison and T.G. Patton chartered Rucker Park on land located on Downs Boulevard near West Main Street as a recreation center for Black youth in Franklin. A portion of Rucker subdivision and Downs Boulevard now stands where the park was located.

“In the deed, they couldn’t sell alcohol or beer in the park for 25 years and no one but African Americans could live in Rucker Subdivision,” said Battle.

At the age of 86, Nannie “Lady” Patton Haynes still recalls riding in the back of a pickup truck to baseball games held on the Ridley farm in Thompson’s Station.

“My brother Nick was the pitcher,” she told Battle in her book “Raining in the House and Leaking Outdoors.” “I used to play, too on the girls ball team. I was first base and partner, if they threw the ball right, that dude was out. … We didn’t have a team name, but that was our biggest recreation.”

Across the county in Nolensville, Ben Chrisom, a shoe cobbler, founded Sunset Park in the 1920s as a recreation park for the African-American community. The park remained in operation until 1975. A historic marker and an open field on Sunset Road mark the area where the park was once located and baseball games against teams like the Battle Farm team, the Brentwood team, Locust Ridge, College Grove, Columbia, Spring Hill and Franklin, Ky., teams.

Joe Pope Jr. didn’t play ball, but he sure enjoyed watching, he said. In 1966 he built the Black Hawk Baseball Park on land he owned on Caycee Springs Rd.

“It was just something I wanted to do,” he said. “I never played too much but I loved to watch people play so I decided to build a park.”

After the park was built, Pope and a few friends came up with the name Black Hawk for the park and their team. Pope and Jessie Turner managed the team for the three-year life of the team and park.

“We played sometimes on Saturday afternoon but most times we played on Sundays,” he said. “We had a lot of fun with it.”

During the team and park’s short life, one of their own became a star.  Southpaw Alexander “Dee-Dee” Bright III played on the San Francisco Giants’ Minor League team.

“When Dee-Dee was in Florida, he would come up to play with us once in awhile,” Pope said.

It may have been 60 years ago, but Caroline Sawyers Smith’s memories of the games she attended at the Locust Ridge Ball Park are still fresh.

Growing up, recreation for the Sawyers family meant baseball.

“Daddy was the manager of the Locust Ridge Team,” she said. Her brother William “Junior” Sawyers was catcher. Some of the other players included Jasper Hatchet, Walter “Little Bub” Sawyers, Doris Hardeman, Walter Wave Hardeman, Will James Esmond, Eugene Crite and Willy Ewen Hatchet.

Located between College Grove and Arno on her Uncle John Sawyers’ Locust Ridge Farm, “We had a lot of fun,” she said. “We had a concession stand to sell beer, cold drinks, ice cream, hot dogs and goat sandwiches. It was a lot of fun.”

Posted on: 3/11/2013

 
 

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