Almost seven decades after their heyday, the Chatham Colored All-Stars will finally have their uniforms worn on a major-league field.
The ground-breaking baseball team will be honoured tomorrow when the Toronto Blue Jays wear replica Chatham uniforms at Shea Stadium in New York.
"I never thought that anything like that would ever happen," said Don Tabron, 85, one of two surviving members from the 1934 Ontario champion team. "They're putting us up on a pedestal, huh?"
Neither Tabron nor ex-teammate Sagasta Harding, 93, can make the trip to New York for the game.
"I'll have to see it on television," said Harding, who now lives in Romulus, Mich. "It's an honour. I never dreamed of anything like that. I'm still surprised."
The New York Mets will be dressed as the New York Cubans to celebrate the Negro leagues and their contributions to baseball.
Blue Jays officials said plans are under way for a similar game in Toronto next season.
The Chatham Colored All-Stars were formed in 1932 and played most of the decade. They never joined a separate league for blacks, and none of the members ever played in the Negro leagues.
However, they were familiar with discrimination. Some players had trouble getting work because of their skin colour. On the road, the team was sometimes turned away from hotels and restaurants.
They played only exhibition games in their first two seasons and barnstormed across the province. They joined the Chatham city league in 1934 while keeping a busy exhibition schedule in which they played as many as five games each week.
In 1934, they became the first all-black team to enter the Ontario Baseball Association playdowns. They won the Intermediate B championship by defeating a Penetanguishene team led by future big-leaguer Phil Marchildon.
The team was welcomed home by 2,000 Chatham fans. A parade that night led to a hotel reception with city officials.
The team never had the opportunity to play in the major leagues. The best players were past their prime when Jackie Robinson broke baseball's colour barrier in 1947.
"I'll have to let somebody else speak for myself but there were guys good enough," Harding said. "We had a catcher, Don Washington. And Earl Chase should have made it. There were some good ball players on there. I won't say the whole team would have made it but we had some good players."
"[Earl Chase]was the closest thing we had to a major-league ballplayer," Tabron added.
Chase beat Marchildon in the final game of the 1934 Ontario championship. The native of North Buxton, Ont., was also a power-hitting infielder.
"Every park we played in, he had the record for the longest hit ball," said Tabron in a 1984 interview.