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Mariners’ Dee Gordon, James Paxton learn ‘side of the game that nobody knows’ at Negro Leagues Museum

A pair of Mariners visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum while in Kansas City. (AP)
LISTEN: Negro Leagues Museum president Bob Kendricks talks to Shannon Drayer

With the Mariners in Kansas City the week before Jackie Robinson Day, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and sit down with museum president Bob Kendrick for an interview that will on the Mariners pregame show at noon Sunday ahead of the series finale against Oakland.

As a bonus, I got to follow along as Kendrick gave Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon and starting pitcher James Paxton a tour of museum and hear the stories and history of the Negro Leagues.

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Later that day I talked with Gordon and Paxton about the visit; those conversations can be found here.

“It shows you a side of the game that nobody knows,” said Gordon. “Honestly, a lot of stories that have been told in the history books about the major leagues, a lot are fiction. They did it first (in the Negro Leagues). A lot, a lot of it. If you say you are a baseball fan, and we all know they like to voice their opinions a lot, a lot of their opinions was passed down with the wrong information so I think they need to get the right information.”

Gordon took his time studying the exhibits and asking questions. He spent extra time examining the statue of Cool Papa Bell, who was considered to be one of the fastest men to ever play the game. Gordon wore Bell’s number on occasion before he reached the big leagues and has long paid tribute to him by wearing high socks in day games.

While it was Gordon’s second trip to the museum, it was Paxton’s first, and he was grateful Gordon invited him to come along.

“It was a great experience, I learned a lot,” Paxton said. “Just to hear how special some of these players were that I hadn’t even heard anything about was amazing. It sounds like some of these guys were the best players that ever played the game and I had no idea who they were.”

Paxton marveled at the “firsts” that occurred in the Negro Leagues as well as the challenges the players faced on and off the field. He also appreciated the stories of the fun and bravado that the players had, recounting a couple of Satchel Paige stories – including the story of his “B Ball.”

What did the “B Ball” do? Well it was simple, according to the story told by Kendrick.

“It be exactly where it needs to be.”

Paxton and Gordon spent a little over two hours at the museum, and if you are at the ballpark this weekend you will probably see parts of the visit on Mariners Vision as it was filmed for later use.

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The impact of the museum is great. You are taken on a walk back in history that starts with a look at a spectacular baseball diamond that you are purposely “segregated” from. You must learn the history through exhibits of photographs, artifacts, documents, sounds and sights as you follow a directed path before you are allowed on the field at the end of the journey.

By the end of the afternoon, two more major leaguers knew some of the stories that Kendrick has worked hard to preserve and pass on.

“Sheer joy,” Kendrick said of the experience. “It also hearkens back to my reflections of the late great Buck O’Neil. Many of the stories I shared with James and Dee are stories he shared with me years ago, and every time I tell one of those stories I feel I am keeping him alive in my mind and in my heart and I always enjoy seeing how the young athletes respond to those stories he told 40-50 years ago. Athletes respect athletes, and to hear about the hardships there is a deeper appreciation. I think it brings everything into a proper perspective.

“The bond they have is love of the game. The Negro Leaguers had it, and these guys have it.”

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