GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two nonprofits in Grand Rapids are coming together to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day.
“We had a lot of good ball players in Grand Rapids that came out of grand rapids,” said Johnny Walker, a former baseball player.
America’s national pastime has a long-rooted history in Grand Rapids.
“I played at Valley Field. I know how the field was and what they’re trying to do, and what they are telling me they are doing. I think it’s a great thing if we can get everything back like it was,” Walker said.
Walker started playing ball at then Valley Field in high school and then played with the Grand Rapids Black Sox in 1956 and 57. The Black Sox were part of the Negro League in the ’40s and ’50s.
“As we were looking through photographs and such that we’ve been getting as we are documenting the history of Valley Field, which is now Sullivan Field. We noticed there was a lot of stuff about Black baseball at the park too. We feel it’s kind of under the radar, unrecognized part of the history,” said Paul Soltysiak, the vice president of Fans of Valley Field.
That is what spared the idea to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at Sullivan Field next month.
“We’re really excited about it. Jackie Robinson Day is nationally recognized on April 15 Saturday. We’re going to have a ball game at the park. Crash is coming from the Whitecaps, and we are going to have some other fun stuff. We are going to recreate a game with the Grand Rapids Black Sox and the Chicky Bar Giants, which were two black baseball teams that played at the park,” Soltysiak said.
In conjunction with the game, Fans of Valley field partnered with Friends of Four Star Theater to host a screening of “The Other Boys of Summer.”
“Which is a really wonderful film that explores really civil rights though the lends of Negro League baseball and America’s pastime in general,” said Marcus Ringalda, founder and president of Friends of Four Star Theater.
Following the movie will be a community conversation where producers will be there to talk about the making of the film and the history of Negro League baseball.
“He was first in the majors, so you have to look up to that. It’s something that I was already thrilled and have a good feeling about Jackie Robinson Day because it’s something I can look to in my history and see he was the first, and that is what makes me proud about Jackie Robinson Day,” Walker said.
Everything is free, but if you want to attend, you need to pre-register. The game will be at Sullivan Field on the northwest side of Grand Rapids on Saturday, April 15, at 2 p.m., followed by the screening of the movie “The Other Boys of Summer” at 7 p.m. at Four Star Theater.
Tickets are available online at fansofvalleyfield.org.