April 27, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Terry Foster

Tigers' tribute to Negro Leagues important to this former player

Ron Teasley, who played baseball in the Negro Leagues, talks to school children about the new movie, "42," the life of Jackie Robinson this month at the Starting Point Montessori School of Detroit. (Bryan Mitchell/Special to The Detroit News)

Detroit — Ron Teasley never attended a Tigers game with his father at Navin Field or Briggs Stadium. And he loved baseball.

But that was the norm in Detroit's black community for most of the 1900s. It did not feel welcomed by the Tigers, one of the last Major League Baseball teams to integrate. There was a hostile environment and Teasley and many other blacks did not get to experience the warm and fuzzy feeling of seeing the green grass of Tiger Stadium for the first time while holding their dad's hand.

My grandfather, for instance, did not feel comfortable at Tiger Stadium and during infrequent visits he sat in the lower deck bleachers.

Teasley, 86, will proudly attend Saturday's Negro League Tribute game between the Tigers and Atlanta Braves at Comerica Park. Teasley became a Negro League player that got a shot in the Majors. He didn't make it but he is proud that the Tigers are paying tribute to his past. This is the same organization that used to shut the door in the black community's face when it petitioned for an Afro-American Day.

Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell used to say if black fans do not come to games why should we give them a day? Detroit's version of the Berlin Wall has been knocked down and this weekend is living proof.

"I appreciate that the Tigers are remembering the Negro League players," Teasley said. "I think it is wonderful. I hope they continue to do it. It is a wonderful gesture."

Didn't see stars

When Teasley was a kid in the 1930s and '40s, white fans only came to games when the Tigers played. Black fans only attended when Negro League teams played. Teasley never got to see his two favorite players — Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg — play live. He only heard about them on radio.

"My dad never took me and I never understood why," Teasley said. "I thought it was a shame. I never got to see Babe Ruth play in person and Caucasians never got to see Buck Leonard or Josh Gibson. Black teams came to town and it was an all-black crowd. They (whites) never got to see our stars and we never got to see their stars. It was a sad situation."

Things are much better now. Today's game features players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Texas and Cuba. There is more diversity in the clubhouses although there is a concern for the number of American born black players.

Teasley did something few kids would do today. He coached basketball and baseball at Northwestern High School and was given a choice. He could only coach one. He dropped basketball despite coaching legend Terry Tyler of the University of Detroit and the Pistons.

"I just thought baseball was more exciting," he said.

Turning to basketball

Teasley coached 14 young men that played professional baseball. It was easier to recruit players because ball fields were green and filled with players. Teasley knew change was coming when he saw young boys roll basketball hoops into the middle of streets or nail them up to lamp posts and garages. The ball yards became empty and too many kids wanted to be like Mike.

"Michael Jordan came along and basketball was getting so much publicity," Teasley said. "The kids started playing basketball. In basketball you only needed four or five players to play. In baseball you needed more kids and you needed a bigger place to play."

During a panel discussion following a screening of the movie "42," Teasley encouraged black kids to play the sport. He believes it is the best game in the world. Teasley played on the fields in Detroit. He is also Wayne State's all-time hits leader and played for the New York Cubans in the Negro League.

Once again Teasley is excited about today's game. It is an opportunity to purchase Negro League merchandise but more importantly learn about the league and its players. If you run into Teasley he'd be more than happy to teach you about past he is very proud of.

"I was part of a great institution in black baseball," Teasley said. "There were a lot of wonderful times and a lot of wonderful men I got to spend time with. They were kind, respectful and they helped me a lot early in my career."

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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