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Field of Dreams in segregated America

By Erika Quesenbery Sturgill for the Cecil Whig’s Our Cecil

Thomas Fields, Sr., loved baseball. Dearly.

But being a black man born in the small town of Havre de Grace (some records say Port Deposit) in 1892 his opportunities to participate in, and often to just watch, the game he loved were severely limited. Sometimes by distance and cost of travel, and frequently too by the sting of racism and segregation.

Segregation would rear its head again when Fields was inducted into the U.S. Army to fight in World War I. He joined fellow Cecil County African American men Oscar W. Griffin and Edward Jones, both of Port Deposit, and Conowingo’s Charles H. and Ernest L. Boddy, in uniform. They were sent with an all-black unit to serve in the Meuse-Argonne region of France during The Great War.

A new world opened to these men in uniform while in France. Here they were American soldiers, not black soldiers or black men, but soldiers. In France, they were able to not only watch baseball games, but participate in them and hone skills unimpeded by taunts, jeers or unwritten rules.

After the war, Fields ceased backbreaking labor in the Port Deposit quarry for a new job as a veteran working on the Pennsylvania Railroad. There he laid track and walked the line cleaning switches for his section of the railroad, which ran from Pilottown at Conowingo to Perryville. He also had the opportunity to use his status as a Pennsylvania Railroad employee to earn free travel. Fields used that free travel perk to go to Baltimore and Philadelphia and watch baseball games, especially those played by his favorite team, the all-black Baltimore Black Sox.

Eventually Fields and his fellow World War I veterans decided to develop their own team back home in Cecil County and created a team that came to be known as the Port Deposit Black Sox. The team was extensively researched by former Port Deposit resident, local historian and published author Fred Kelso in recent years. A number of the players became quite good and were scouted by other teams including the Baltimore Elite Giants. Indeed, some amongst their members are featured in a display at Ripken Stadium on the club level.

1950s Photo of Port Deposit Black Sox sourced by Fred Kelso, historian includes Ernest Burke
Ernest Burke is pictured 2nd from the right in the front row. (Pitcher)

Many familiar names are found on the roster of the Port Deposit Black Sox over the years including Boddy, Griffin, Jones, Jackson and Stewart. William Pringle “Bill” Stewart, a one-time Port Deposit town councilman, shared some of his memories of playing on the team for posterity with the Paw Paw Museum several years prior to his death in 2011. Stewart was born in Port Deposit in 1926, a son of Joseph and Margaret Stewart. A U.S. Navy World War II veteran he retired from Aberdeen Proving Ground and was a familiar face working at the Port Deposit Post Office and doing lawn and garden work for a number of happy local customers in his later years.

The Port Deposit Black Sox were indeed such a good team of players that white players would practice with them and occasionally play a game honing skills and working out. Among those handful of players who recorded memories of those games was Bud Lloyd, a premier player in the Susquehanna League at first or third base for Havre de Grace, Perryville and the Scarboro teams. After the Susquehanna League games, Lloyd occasionally appeared on the diamond with the Port Deposit Black Sox. It should be noted that Lloyd was an incredible slugger who once hit three homeruns in a playoff game to win Havre de Grace the pennant. The final hit screamed through the open door of a boxcar on the tracks beyond left field.

It is likely that Lloyd, and the regular sluggers on the Port Deposit Black Sox team, prompted quite a lot of sales of baseballs for Cecil shopkeepers. Originally they had a field on the old Log Pond of the long closed Port Deposit Canal, but after extensive fundraisers they built a field in the area were Wiley Manufacturing later stood, and now stands condominiums. Left handed hitters, and super sluggers, were known to hit the ball into the Susquehanna River during the contests at Port’s field of dreams, the dream of Thomas Fields, Sr.

Photo sourced by Fred Kelso, Port Deposit historian and former resident, for his article on the Black Sox in the Historical Society of Cecil County Newsletter, copy in the Historical Society of Cecil County, originally published in The Cecil Democrat Newspaper, published in The Cecil Whig with my article above.

 

 

1950s Port Deposit Black Sox included Ernest Burke

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