GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Baseball players all over the country and in Grand Rapids celebrated Jackie Robinson Day Saturday.

“It makes me feel real proud to just be here at Valley Field for this special occasion,” said Johnny Walker, a former baseball player for the Grand Rapids Black Sox.

It was a great occasion indeed. Dozens of people packed into the stands of Sullivan Field — formerly known as ‘Valley Field’ — to celebrate baseball legacy Jackie Robinson.

He wasn’t the only one being recognized.

“We thought, ‘Hey, we should do something for Jackie Robinson Day, because we never really have before.’ We just recently started uncovering a lot of the history of Black baseball in Grand Rapids. We thought, ‘Gosh, let’s have a game. Let’s invite the former players,'” said Paul Soltysiak, the vice president and founder of Fans of Valley Field, a nonprofit organization working to restore the park.

The nonprofit invited the former Black Sox players to come out and watch a game, while also celebrating Robinson.

Former Grand Rapids Black Sox players Johnny Walker and Dan Groce. (April 15, 2023)
Former Grand Rapids Black Sox players Johnny Walker and Dan Groce. (April 15, 2023)

“Jackie Robinson was a second baseman, and I played second base. So that’s my heart right there. Playing at Valley Field, I played lots of baseball here when I was young,” said Walker.

Also in the audience was Minnie Forbes, the only living Negro League Baseball team owner. She owned the Detroit Starts from 1956 until 1958. She said she used to sell tickets at Sullivan Field when she was younger.

“I go way back, and I am really excited to see the park has been changed. And that it’s Sullivan’s Field,” she said with a smile.