Civil Rights Game set to celebrate diversity

By Mark Sheldon
Updated: May 14, 2010

CINCINNATI — There will be no shortage of icons, tributes and activity on Saturday surrounding the Gillette Civil Rights Game.

The itinerary is packed and the theme will be remembering the struggles of the past, celebrating the achievements of the present and anticipating what lies ahead in the future.

“It’s always exciting to be a part of something like that,” Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera said on Friday. “It’s a tribute to all of the people that sacrificed most of their lives to make that happen.”

“It’s about the meaning of their lives for that cause. It’s nice that Major League Baseball has started doing stuff like that. Hopefully, we go out there and appreciate that game.”

At 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, three icons will be honored in what should be moving presentations during the sold-out MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon at the Duke Energy Center.

The Beacon Awards recognize individuals “whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.” The MLB Beacon of Life Award will be presented to Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Mays will get his award from the Rev. Bill Greason, who was a teammate of Mays’ in 1948 with Birmingham of the Negro Leagues.

The MLB Beacon of Change Award will go to tennis legend and equality pioneer Billie Jean King, who spent her career trying to put women’s sports on the same level as men’s athletics. Presenting King’s award will be boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of legendary boxing great Muhammad Ali.

Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte will receive the MLB Beacon of Hope Award from congressman John Lewis, who was once a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

The luncheon will be hosted by ESPN anchor Sage Steele with former Atlanta mayor, congressman and United States ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

Grammy Award winning singer Roberta Flack will be performing.

Honors will also go to Rachel Robinson, the wife of Jackie Robinson, and the late Lena Horne, who died on Sunday at the age of 92. There will be a special introduction and video presentation at the luncheon and at the ballpark prior to the game for Horne, who had planned to attend the event before her passing.

There will also be a special tribute to the members of the sit-in at the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. Proceeds from the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon will benefit the Reds Community Fund, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Major League Baseball Urban Youth Foundation.

At Fountain Square from 12-7 p.m., several thousand young people will participate at Youth Summit and the MLB Wanna Play event. It is free and open to the public.

During the event, Reds players Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will conduct a baseball skills demonstration from 2-2:30 p.m. and participate in a Q&A from 2:30-3 p.m. that will also feature MLB Network analysts Harold Reynolds and Barry Larkin, Cardinals infielder Felipe Lopez, teen saxophonist BK Jackson and Capt. Josh Holden, a West Point graduate and former Reds Minor Leaguer.

At 5 p.m., over 2,000 kids, coaches and community partners will take part in the Delta Youth Baseball March from Fountain Square to Great American Ball Park.

“One of the great things about Cincinnati is the close proximity of the facilities we can use,” said Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations.

“Having Fountain Square right there and the kids marching down was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. To have the Freedom Center right across from the ballpark makes it easy to get from event to event so simple.”

Over at the Reds Hall of Fame from 4-6 p.m., author James Hirsch will have a presentation highlighting the career of Mays. Hirsch wrote the bestselling biography, “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend.”

Chuck Harmon, the Reds’ first African-American player and author Marty Pieratt will sign copies of a new book called “First Black Red,” from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Hall of Fame.

At 6:40 p.m. ET, before the start of the Reds-Cardinals game, fans will get to see the three Beacon Award winners be recognized. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Flack will sing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and recording artist Jeffrey Osborne will perform the National Anthem. The U.S. Army Golden Knights will perform an aerial demonstration.

During the 7:10 p.m. game, both the Reds and Cardinals will be wearing 1947 throwback uniforms to commemorate Robinson’s rookie year and his breaking of the color barrier.

If last year is any barometer, the players will be on the top step of their respective dugouts watching the festivities. That’s exactly what the Reds and White Sox did for the 2009 Civil Rights Game.

“I think anything that reminds people of history — and especially critical history — is very healthy,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “A lot of guys, they grow up now and I asked them if they knew who Maury Wills was.”

“No they didn’t. Anything you can do to remind them not to make light of it, but the Civil Rights Game is a real good message to send from Major League Baseball.”

The first 20,000 fans at the game will receive a free Chuck Harmon 1954 mesh Reds jersey.Great American Ball Park gates will open earlier than normal on Saturday at 5:10 p.m.

From 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. before Sunday afternoon’s series finale, fans that go to the Reds Hall of Fame can meet with veterans of the Negro Leagues and get autographs. For the 1:10 p.m. game, the first 10,000 kids, 14 and younger, will receive a Phillips kids mesh jersey.