While hunting for bargains Sunday, shoppers at a suburban flea market got a chance to meet some living sports legends.
Wolff's Flea Market in Rosemont hosted appearances by several players of baseball's Negro League, the group of black teams that thrived in the years before baseball became an integrated sport. Nathan "Sonny" Weston, former outfielder and first baseman with the Chicago American Giants, and Ray "Boo Boy" Knox, a former catcher with the Giants, were among those who attended.
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The former players chatted with fans, signed autographs and sold memorabilia. Weston, 82, a resident of the south suburbs, said he was delighted that people are still interested in the Negro League.
"It's such a thrill when people come by," he said. "And I thank God that I'm still around to talk to them!"
The Negro League was established in the late 19th century and existed until the early 1950s. It was a key outlet for blacks who wanted to play baseball, especially before Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color barrier in 1947.
Weston, who grew up in the "small, country town" of East Chicago Heights (now known as Ford Heights), joined the Chicago American Giants in 1951 after trying unsuccessfully to make the rosters of the Chicago White Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"They told me they liked how I played, but that I needed more 'seasoning,'" Weston said with a chuckle. "I wasn't going to let that stop me. The way I saw it, baseball was my game."
He played for the Giants until the league disbanded in 1952. He continued to play the game in various semipro leagues after that, even while working full-time in the automotive industry. Weston said he loves the game to this day.
Steven Casper, a baseball fan from Milwaukee, stopped to chat with Weston while at the flea market.
"It was really cool," Casper said. "I guess I've always thought of the Negro League as something that happened a million years ago, but a lot of players from those teams are still around. As a fan, this made my day."
Wolff's Flea Market, which features 725 vendors, opens at 6 a.m. on Sundays through Oct. 27 outside the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Wolff's also operates a flea market in Palatine. For more information, go to wolffs.com.