A Macon teenager's love for baseball has lead him to unearth Negro League history.
Gordon Smith, the 15-year-old Eagle Scout and JV baseball player at his high school, discovered Negro League players from his hometown and secured their place in history.
His love of the game and a recent family vacation to Missouri lead him on a journey to find his roots.
"We went to Kansas City and we went to the Negro League Museum there and I had an idea, a thought, if any Negro League players were from Macon. So when I came home we did our research and I found that there were four. And I wanted to honor them."
He set out to find these men. With the help of the museum in Kansas City, Gordon identified Lemuel Hawkins and Marion Cain, who are now deceased.
He also found Robert Scott and Ernest “Big Dog” Fann.
Fann has had that nickname since he was 6 years old, after a kid in the neighborhood decided Ernest just wouldn’t do.
"He said we not going to call you Ernest. Ernest sounds like a girl’s name. You are bigger than us, so we gonna call you Big Dog!"
Fann now lives in Alabama. But after talking to Gordon, he traveled to Macon and joined Scott, who lives in the city, for a ceremony honoring the four Maconites who played in the Negro League.
As part of an Eagle Scout project, Gordon raised money for the four plaques that hang on the walls at Macon’s Luther Williams Field. No team currently plays at the park. But it's the second oldest minor league stadium in the country and full of history. And it was the setting for the major motion picture “42” a bio-pic about Jackie Robinson, a former Negro League player who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier.
Like Robinson, Big Dog played Negro League baseball before the major leagues. He's now in his 70s, wearing a burgundy jacket with a Negro League patch on it and a baseball hat. And he still looks like he could throw a fast ball….fast!
After the ceremony Fann said "right now it hit me that what I did was important. And that’s one of the greatest feelings you could have. To know you went through life and impacted the country. That’s a good feeling. I feel great right now."
Ray Doswell is the curator of the Kansas City Negro Leagues Museum in Missouri. He helped Gordon find Big Dog and the others. Doswell says a lot of history is top down, think your high school history class. But much of history comes from the bottom up.
The Negro Leagues is a part of that bottom up history.
"There’s a lot of interest in history, there’s a lot of interest in baseball still, and that’s a motivation for a lot of communities to dig up and mine their archives and people for information about a connection to this broader history. The young man tapped into that" says Doswell.
Gordon says he’d like to play professional baseball one day, and after he retires, he’d like to be a marine biologist.
The lives of the four Negro League players he found gives Gordon drive to follow those dreams.