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'Hidden story' of Minnesota baseball coming to Woodbury

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WOODBURY, Minn. -- With baseball season in full swing, a Woodbury man is out to remind fans about a largely forgotten aspect of the game in Minnesota: the accomplishments of black ballplayers.

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"It's a very hidden story," said Frank White, curator of the exhibit "They Played for the Love of the Game, Adding to the Legacy of Minnesota Black Baseball."

The exhibit, which goes on display throughout June at Woodbury's Stafford library, will celebrate the contributions of black ballplayers through vintage scoresheets, newspaper clippings and previously unreleased photos from the 1920s through the 1940s.

A panel discussion is set for 10:30 a.m. June 22 at the library. White said it's possible Twins great Tony Oliva and Julio Becquer, who also played with the organization and on a Negro League team, will be members of the panel.

In addition to running the exhibit since 2010, White also heads up the Minnesota Twins Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program.

White -- whose father played for the Twin City Colored Giants from the 1930s to the 1950s -- said he's eager to share with residents the rich, often untold, history that black ballplayers brought to the Twin Cities and beyond.

Though Minnesota never had a team competing in the Negro Leagues, it didn't keep black ballplayers from forming their own teams here, White explained.

There was the deep rivalry between the St. Paul Colored Giants and the Minneapolis Keystones that ran until 1912, and other teams that drew crowds, like the Uptown Sanitary Shop.

Meanwhile, Minnesota fans came out in droves to see Negro League teams playing exhibition games that barnstormed through the state and into Canada.

And then there were the ballplayers.

Many local baseball aficionados will recall that Willie Mays played a brief stint in Minnesota, but how about Brooklyn Dodgers great Roy Campanella or Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock?

They, along with former major leaguers Monte Irvin, Orlando Cepeda, Matty Alou and Felipe Alou were among those impactful black ballplayers who made Minnesota home while they played here, if only for a brief stint.

The effort, White stressed, is to get people "to understand that African-Americans played baseball here -- a lot."

Because so much of that history occurred before civil rights laws took hold, that meant significant struggles for the black ballplayers who played here. White said that side of the story won't go untold in the exhibit. He said it's important to know that Jim Crow-like policies existed in the Twin Cities. For example, White said, black ballplayers here would watch restaurant staff throw away the plates they had eaten off, rather than wash them.

White said he's not interested in dwelling on the negative side of history, but said it's important to remind the public how things were.

"It's a history," he said, "and people need to know that these things existed. ... We've come a long way. We learn to respect one another by knowing a little bit more about our histories."

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