April 26th through 28th marked a memorable weekend as the Detroit Tigers hosted the eleventh annual Negro Leagues Weekend Celebration presented by Comerica Bank and media partners, Radio One Detroit and WWJ Newsradio 950. During the weekend, fans were given the opportunity to pay tribute to the Negro Leagues and the players who defined this profound era in sports history.
"The Stars come out to Shine"
The seventh annual Detroit Stars Singing Competition kicked off the weekend festivities. The top 10 finalists from earlier competitions took the stage at Comerica Park in front of celebrity judges to showcase their vocal abilities. This year's panel of judges included Duke Fakir, legendary Motown singer from the Hall of Fame group The Four Tops, Lee Thomas, an entertainment reporter for FOX 2 WJBK, and Dionne Farris, acclaimed R&B singer and songwriter. The singing competition was intense as the judges evaluated contestants on vocal ability, showmanship, crowd response and song selection. Marnell Kenan was named this yearâs winner and received a grand prize of $1,500 and the opportunity to perform the national anthem prior to the Tigers game on August 15, 2013.
Honoring the Tradition
The weekend celebration continued as the Detroit Tigers paid homage to African Americans and their numerous contributions to the game of baseball during the annual "Passing of the Bat" ceremony on-field at Comerica Park. The bat symbolizes the history of African American contributions in baseball as it passes through the hands of past, present and future generations of African American ball players. This year's ceremony celebrated former Negro Leagues player, Walt Owens, Tigers alumni Ike Blessitt, FOX Sports Detroit broadcaster Rod Allen, current Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter and Johnny Slater of Southfield Lathrup High School, one of the top senior high school baseball prospects in the state who is committed to play at the University of Michigan.
On Saturday, April 27, twelve former Negro Leagues players participated in a roundtable discussion and Q & A session on the Comerica Park concourse. The session focused on the history of the Negro Leagues and individual stories of perseverance. The Negro Leagues honorees then headed to the field for a pregame ceremony commemorating the achievements and the history of the Negro Leagues. This moving on-field ceremony was hosted by John Mason of WCHB AM. Following the ceremony the Tigers took the field in Detroit Stars uniforms while the Atlanta Braves donned the uniforms of the Atlanta Black Crackers as part of the 19th annual Negro Leagues Tribute game.
Continuing a Rich Legacy
On Sunday April 28, the annual Negro Leagues Weekend Celebration culminated with the presentation of the African American Legacy Award and a salute to all African American Ball players who have worn the Olde English D. The African American Legacy Award, which was first presented in 2009 to former Tiger and 1968 World Series Champion, Gates Brown, was designed to honor current or former African American Detroit Tigers players for their contributions to the Detroit Tigers and their influence upon players of all races who follow in their footsteps. To commemorate his contributions as a leader, pioneer and role model, the 2013 award was presented to 1984 World Series Champion Larry Herndon. The award and special gifts were presented by former Tigers teammate, Dave Bergman. A Testimonial Resolution was presented by Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Gary Brown.
On June 26th, the Detroit Tigers welcomed 60 individuals to Comerica Park to be sworn in as American citizens on the field. The oath was administered by Judge Paul Borman through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the United States Department of Justice. The new citizens and their family members received complimentary tickets courtesy of the Detroit Tigers to enjoy Americaâs Favorite Pastime after officially becoming citizens of the United States.
To pay tribute to the legacy of Jackie Robinson, the Detroit Tigers partnered with Comerica Bank and Major League Baseball to host two screenings of the movie "42" for students Detroit Edison Public School Academy and athletes from Don Bosco Hall. Following the film, students participated in Q & A sessions and a panel discussion. Participating students received a "42" patch courtesy of MLB.