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— by Pat Foran, editor
Railroads connect commercial dots — across town, across state lines, across the country, across continents. They also can connect dots within the communities they call home.
“And if we’re going to make a difference in the community, it’s going to start with the kids,” says Patriot Rail Co. LLC President and CEO John Fenton.
For Fenton and the Jacksonville, Fla.-based short-line owner/operator, making a start means serving as lead sponsor and organizer of “A Week with Baseball Legends,” which will be held Sept. 17-24. The aim of the weeklong event is to encourage youth participation in baseball and honor the history of Negro League baseball (e.g., the Red Caps) in Jacksonville.
Event partners include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida; the Major League Baseball (MLB) Alumni Association; the Jacksonville Suns, the AA minor league baseball affiliate of the Miami Marlins; the city of Jacksonville; and the Jacksonville Sports Council.
The “Week” features a free kids and family night that includes a showing of “42,” the 2013 movie about the life of Jackie Robinson. Traveling exhibits from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will be available for viewing throughout the week. There’ll be a fundraiser — “Dinner on the Diamond with Legends” — honoring Harold “Buster” Hair, the last surviving member of the Negro Leagues from Jacksonville. Hair will receive the Bill Lucas Humanitarian Award; Lucas, who also hailed from Jacksonville, was the first African-American general manager in MLB history. “Legends” on hand will include former MLB players Vince Coleman, Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Chipper Jones, Amos Otis, Frank White and Willie Wilson. Funds raised will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters and help purchase baseball equipment for inner-city youth. There also will be a baseball clinic featuring the aforementioned former major leaguers. Big Brothers Big Sisters will bring 150 children to the instructional, to be held at historic James P. Small Memorial Park, where the Red Caps played.
Event organizers have discussed the possibility of replicating the weeklong celebration in other cities, Fenton says. For now, though, it’s all about Jacksonville’s boys and girls of summer.
“It’s not just about baseball. It’s about how people can get involved, how they can make a difference,” he says. “It’s about giving these kids some hope.”
Sponsorships were still available as of early August. For more information, contact Patriot Rail AVP of Corporate Communications Maureen Donnelly at 904-423-2543; firstname.lastname@example.org.