Ernest Westfield

Ernest Ernie Westfield

Rosemont ( ILLINOIS ) Donald Steven's Convention Center

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Hank "Baby" Presswood (Cleveland Buckeyes and Kansas City Monarchs); Johnny "Lefty" Washington (Chicago American Giants and Houston Eagles); & Nathan "Sonny" Weston, (Chicago American Giants); Ernest "Ernie" Westfield (Birmingham Black Barons) plus others will all appear at the nation's largest Sports Convention which begins on Wednesday July 30th 2008 at the Rosemont (ILLINOIS) Donald Steven's Convention Center. Carl Long, Hank "Baby" Presswood, Jim "Zapper" Zapp, Johnny "Lefty" Washington, Nathan "Sonny" Weston, and Ernest "Ernie" Westfield.

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As the baseball season kicks off for Simeon Career Academy and the Jackie Robinson West Little League, a poet and former Negro League Baseball player Ernie Westfield offers a poetic tribute to the struggles and success stories of his former league. (Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune)

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Baseball's 'Shadow men' still remain; Negro Leaguers McKnight, Westfield played for the love of the game
Ira McKnight, who played with the Kansas City Monarchs, and Ernie Westfield, who played with the Birmingham Black Barons, were part of a baseball card show at the Markland Mall. McKnight and Westfield were part of those traveling teams. Both men are part of living history -- history that is being slowly shoved aside and forgotten, according to Westfield. Ernest "Ernie" Westfield became a pitcher by a stroke of fate or perhaps by God's hand. The Tennessee native was playing semi-pro baseball in Knoxville in 1959 when opportunity knocked. "I usually played third base," Westfield said. "But the pitcher didn't show for some reason, and they asked me to pitch." Westfield made the most of the opportunity -- tossing a no-hitter. "After the game this scout came up to me. It was Buck O'Neil," Westfield said. O'Neil, beside being a great baseball player himself, was a scout for the Birmingham Black Barons, whom Westfield had faced that day. Westfield left with the team the next day and pitched for the Barons for the next six years. Westfield said he enjoyed his time in baseball and still has the desire to make people aware of the history of the Negro Leagues. "I don't want people to forget about what these players did," Westfield said. "A lot of young people today aren't aware of how baseball was then." Westfield says that not letting people forget about the past and the role that African American baseball players played in it is key to ending racial problems in this country. "It's funny. I was being interviewed by a reporter, and he asked me who my favorite player was when I was a kid," Westfield said. "I told him Carl Erskine, the pitcher for Dodgers. He said 'What about Joe Black or Don Newcombe?' I said no, my favorite player was Erskine. I guess he wanted me to say that my favorite player was black, not white." After his playing days, Westfield continued to coach baseball at the youth level. And he started working harder in his other passion -- poetry. "When I was younger, I could do two things well," Westfield said. "Play baseball and write poetry." Westfield said that he had a stuttering problem when he was younger, so he was more likely to put his thoughts on paper than speak them. "Surprisingly, all of my stuttering problems stopped when I started to play baseball," Westfield said. "I really loved Walter Payton," Westfield said. "I sent him a copy, but I don't know for sure if he got it," Westfield said. Westfield and McKnight played against each other in the last East-West All-Star Game at Cominsky Park in Chicago. Westfield was the starting pitcher for the East, while McKnight played third base for the West. Westfield pitched three innings for the East and left the game down, 3-2. Having been opponents on the field, Westfield and McKnight now can be found spreading the word about the Negro Leagues, making sure that an important part of history doesn't die or fade away.

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