It’s the start of baseball season and the close of Black History Month, and you might be reading that and wondering, “What does that have to do with North Dakota?” Truly, there’s a fascinating bit of history here.
According to the most recent census report, only 1.2% of North Dakota’s population is black. You might assume that North Dakota wouldn’t have much to offer in recognition of Black History Month (February). Sports afficianos know otherwise though, and I’ve recently been learning some really cool baseball history about my state that intertwines with Black History.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, semi-pro and amateur baseball was popular and prevalent in North Dakota. Even some of the smallest towns had teams. America’s pastime was North Dakota’s pastime, and along with Minnesota was one of the first states in the U.S. to allow integrated teams to play together.
A year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball a player by the name of Satchel Paige joined the roster of the Cleveland Indians. His legendary pitching got him elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. Paige, along with notable players like Ted Radcliffe, Quincy Troppe and Showboat Fisher, were a part of the North Dakota baseball picture in the 1930s. In 1935, Paige lead the Bismarck Churchills to a national championship and said, “That was the best team I ever saw; the best players I ever played with. But who ever heard of them.”
Some photos and information from North Dakota’s early baseball days are on display at the Heritage Center in Bismarck. Visitors can also enjoy minor-league baseball at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. This 4,500+ seat facility is home to 5-time league champions, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. The RedHawks begin their season on May 11.