Negro league veterans talk to Woodland students
Two former Negro league ballplayers entertained fifth-graders at Gurnee's Woodland Intermediate School on Wednesday with stories about their careers in professional baseball.
Hank Presswood, a 91-year-old ex-shortstop who now lives in Chicago, and Ray Knox, an 81-year-old Evanston resident who was a catcher in his playing days, talked about their starts in baseball, dugout camaraderie and even meeting the great Leroy Satchel Paige.
They also talked about being athletes in segregated America, traveling to towns where they couldn't eat in restaurants or rest in hotel rooms because of the color of their skin.
"I slept on the bus," recalled Knox, who played for the Chicago American Giants in the early 1950s. "But we didn't pay that too much attention. Because we loved the game. And the people loved us."
The retired athletes were invited to the school because the students read biographies of Paige and Jackie Robinson — the Brooklyn Dodgers star who broke the color barrier in 1947 — in February as part of Black History Month.
"It's a great connection for my students," teacher Anne Sebald said. "We've connected to the literature, and now they're connecting to the real world."
Presswood played pro ball from 1948 to 1952. He spent two seasons with the Cleveland Buckeyes and two with the Kansas City Monarchs.
He recounted meeting Paige, a pitcher inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971, before a game in his rookie season, when Paige was pitching for the opposing team.
"I'm going to give you a whipping you never had before," Presswood remembered telling Paige.
The great hurler's response?
"Not today, Hank," Presswood said.
And Paige was right. The best contact Presswood had all day was a foul ball.
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