There are unlikely stories, and “Color Blind” by Tom Dunkel is one of them.
During the Great Depression, in of all places, Bismarck, N.D., a car dealership owner named Neil Churchill decided to put together the best baseball team he could with players from everywhere and nowhere.
This was an age of town teams and Sunday doubleheaders that were taken very seriously. Churchill wanted to expand this concept to the nth degree by making his town team a nationally recognized outfit.
This was independent baseball. Was it pro ball? Well, yes. Players were paid, or were supposed to be paid, and they came from both independent leagues and pro teams.
Perhaps the most amazing part was this team was integrated a decade before the Jackie Robinson era. You can bet Satchel Page was part of this story, and he is.
Not only did Churchill gather a very good team, he decided to organize the first national semi-pro tournament. Teams came from all over the country to play and some of the game’s best semipro and Negro League players gathered for a baseball feast.
The background as to how this team came to be, how it was held together, and how this tournament was arranged is fascinating.
Dunkel has Baltimore connections. In his online bio, he says, “From 2003 to 2007, I was a feature writer at The Baltimore Sun. My freelance credits include The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal as well as commentaries for National Public Radio.
“I spent four years researching and writing my first book, “Color Blind,” about the lost world of semipro town baseball.”
So much of baseball’s depth in the nation’s structure comes not from the pro teams as we know them, but from the town teams that furthered the interest in the game from the mid-1800s on.
This is a rich tale of one such team.
“Dunkel’s enthralling narrative of Bismarck’s talented collection of white and black players falls into the ‘must-read’ category.” - Cleveland Plain Dealer
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2018 season is his 12th with the club and 33nd covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the 7th consecutive year, have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March. 180 children participated last year.
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