NASHVILLE, TN — One of the Nashville Stars’ most vital partners isn’t a person at all. It’s a museum, one with a spirit that enlivens one of the most notable periods in our country’s history.
So what better way to celebrate and commemorate Black History Month than reveling in the legacy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM), which aims to share the league’s vast history and stories of accomplishments with all who visit.
Bob Kendrick, NLBM President and Nashville Stars Board Member, shouted that message of pride during a call with the Stars on Tuesday. “At the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, we celebrate Black History 365 days a year,” Kendrick said. “Obviously during the month of February, there is a greater point of emphasis on African American contributions to American history, and the story of the Negro Leagues is one of those great American stories.”
There has been no shortage of recent visitors to the Kansas City landmark that honors the start of the Negro Leagues, which were also launched in KC, an area that is often (especially by Kendrick) called the Heart of America. In 2022, the Museum welcomed a record February attendance that surpassed 7,000 total visitors — double its usual monthly count — and Kendrick aims to eclipse that total in 2023.
One of the key drivers of that attendance growth has been NLBM’s partnership with the Kansas City Royals and Royals Charities, who are teaming up again this year to provide free admission for all who came to the Museum (from anywhere in the world) during the month of February. Last year, in the first year of this free-admission promotion, many of those attendees were school-age children, thanks to school field trips and family outings.
“We hope this support from the Royals will motivate even more fans to visit. We want to give people every opportunity to come and take advantage of this experience and to learn how significant this history really is,” Kendrick said. “People are amazed, and it will inevitably drive people here who have not been here. But I’m sure we’ll see some repeat visits.”
“Being a fan of baseball is about understanding the history of the game and acknowledging the sacrifices African Americans made to get the chance to play the game,” Luis Maes, Vice President of Community Impact for the Kansas City Royals, said. “This year we are hoping to watch more people walk through the doors of this one-of-a-kind museum.”
“Our museum is not about the stuff. It’s about the story,” Kendrick added. “And the story of the Negro Leagues is not just an African American story; it is an all-American story. As people delve deeper into this story, they learn that it embodies the American spirit unlike any story in the annals of American history. It’s everything that America prides herself in being because it is about pride and passion and perseverance, determination and courage, the refusal to accept the notion that you’re unfit to do anything. So as the founders of the Negro Leagues said by their actions, ‘I’ll show you: You won’t let me play with you in the Major Leagues, I’ll create a league of my own.’”
Kendrick recalls that when he first met one of his dear friends, Buck O’Neil, the inspiring force for the Museum, one of the first questions that he asked O’Neil was his motivation to build a Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
“His answer was succinct,” Kendrick said. “‘So that we would be remembered.’ He did not want them to be forgotten, not only for what they gave this game, but more importantly, what they did for this country.”
Kendrick is also very optimistic about Major League Baseball expanding into Music City, noting that he enjoys “speaking” things into existence: “WHEN this happens, this is going to be a game changer. Not only for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, but for Negro Leagues history in general, because it represents an unprecedented opportunity, the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a Major League Baseball franchise will be named after a Negro League team.”
What the Negro Leagues teach us is very simple,” Kendrick concluded. “If you dare to dream and you believe in yourself, you can do or be anything you want to be. And that’s the message that we share, particularly with our young people.”