It was a fine evening for baseball as the Homestead Grays (28-28) from Washington came barnstorming into Turner Field on Saturday, looking to knock off the NL East leading Atlanta Black Crackers (33-22). It was an extra innings thriller for the ages that had everything the 46,910 in attendance could ask for – drama, excitement and redemption for the much maligned Melvin Emanuel “Bossman Junior” Upton.
The game was ripe with acrobatic plays, fantastic base running, hot weather and even hotter tempers. Black Crackers manager Fredi Gonzalez even got himself tossed in the fourth inning arguing balls and strikes with the ump.
Before the start of the game, Atlanta paid tribute to the Negro Leagues, honoring the legendary members of the Black Crackers, Indianapolis Clowns, Kansas City Monarchs, Philadelphia Stars, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons and Detroit Stars for the team’s Heritage Weekend celebration.
One the field, PA announcers introduced the crowd to legends like Charlie Dees of the Louisville Black Clippers, Ernest Fann of the Raleigh Tigers and Roosevelt Jackson of the Miami Globetrotters and Hollywood Redbirds. Jackson, who at 95 years old is the oldest living member of the Negro Leagues, was a cut up and danced around the diamond for 30 seconds after his introduction.
In honor of the weekend, both teams wore Negro League throwback uniforms.
The celebration of the players and teams of the Negro Leagues along with a flyover from a P51 Mustang propeller-powered Red Tail jet to honor the Tuskegee Airmen were just a small part of the Heritage celebration that has been going on throughout the weekend.
On the field the fans got a treat as well. Black Crackers’ ace Tim Hudson, who’s been struggling this season with an ERA above 5 coming into the game, pitched a doozie and took the Gray’s Gio Gonzalez as far as he could go.
“It was a great baseball game all around,” said Hudson. “A fun game for a real baseball fan to be a part of.”
Hudson threw 7 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run in his longest outing of the season. His high-minded efforts weren’t quite enough to get the win, though, as the game was a 1-1 tie when he bowed out in the eighth. Luis Avilan got ’em to the ninth and closer Craig Kimbrel worked himself out of a runners-on-second-and-third jam in the ninth to send the game to extras.
Having used all but one reserve batter, the Black Crackers turned to “Bossman Junior” Upton with one out in the bottom of the 10th. Batting just .145 this season and having gone 1-3 in the game with his only hit on a silly bounce up the middle, fans had booed him twice on the evening. But as he came to the plate the whole crowd was chanting his name and he delivered.
“It was pretty cool,” admitted Upton. “But at that point you gotta block it out and that’s what I did.”
He hit a shallow shot into right field that dropped and drove in Jordan Schafer, who was pinch running for Evan Gattis, for the 2-1 win.
It was a perfect end to a great game and Black Crackers fans are hoping it’ll be just what Upton needs to get his game going again at a high level.
“At big moments in the game you forget all about the past,” said Upton.
Gonzalez, who watched from the team’s clubhouse, understood what the RBI meant for the Black Crackers big offseason acquisition who has been held out of the team’s past two starts.
“That was big for a guy who’s been getting beat up,” said Gonzalez. “Hopefully that catapults him for two or three more months.”
After the game hip hop legends RUN DMC performed a medley of hits for fans who stuck around. It was a fitting end to what Gonzalez called “a good win in front of a great crowd.”