Sounds' new park will honor Negro Leagues

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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The history of professional baseball in Nashville with special recognition paid to the Negro Leagues will be told in a number of ways at the Sounds' new First Tennessee Park.

The park is scheduled to open on April 17.

"We're going to do quite a lot within the ballpark of educating folks on the baseball history in the city," Sounds senior vice president Doug Scopel said. "From the people that were a part of the first pro teams in Nashville in 1885, to the Negro League and obviously the Nashville Vols, who have a ton of history there."

The Sounds, the Metro Nashville Sports Authority, Tennessee State Museum, Nashville Public Library and local baseball historian Skip Nipper joined forces to make decisions about what to include.

Former Sports Authority chairman Arnett Bodenhamer, who is considered an expert on Nashville's black baseball heritage, met with Sounds owner Frank Ward and other officials Wednesday and was filled in on some of the ways the Negro Leagues will be represented.

"I just wanted to make sure they planned to recognize the old Negro League and guys who went on to play (in the major leagues)," Bodenhamer said. "From what they showed me and what they told me, if they do what they say they're going to, then I think it's going to be very good."

Along the greenway that will run between the state capitol and the park will be a large sign specific to the Negro Leagues.

Inside the concourse of the park will be several pictures along with a description of accomplishments for some of the greatest Negro League players such as Junior Gilliam and others who had a connection to Nashville.

The library has put together a video history of the Negro Leagues, which will include interviews with Bodenhamer and others.

"I want to talk about Clinton 'Butch' McCord, who in my day was probably one of the best ballplayers I had ever seen from all sides defense and offense; he could hit it and he could catch it," Bodenhamer said. "Then there's Henry Kimbro, Doc Dennis, Jim Zapp and Bobby Coleman."

The video will be available in a kiosk located inside the stadium and at nashvillesounds.com. Outtakes will be shown on the video board during many of the games.

"In the coming weeks we'll roll out some of this stuff and have renderings and what these items actually physically look like," said Sports Authority executive director Toby Compton, who also met with Bodenhamer and Ward on Wednesday. "To the Sounds credit, they have really worked hard to be thoughtful and incorporate a lot of people."

Nipper said he was satisfied with what is planned.

"It's a story that needs to be told and continually told," Nipper said. "We just can't stop when this new stadium is opened and the luster goes away."

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 and on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

The Tennessean