Americans do two things perhaps better than any other group of people on the planet: party and have a good time. Leisure has been a critical part of the American framework throughout our history. That's not to say every nationality doesn't have some sort of customary games and or entertainment they grasp to when it's time to relax.
One of the games we've held dear to our hearts is baseball. This time every year the baseball season starts. It reminds many of us of days before wide-spread TV coverage and how important the beat writer was back in the day. Radio and newspapers were once the way to follow the game. As opening day throughout Major League Baseball parks brought with them renewed optimism for the 2011 season, it's also the perfect time to remember some baseball history in Newton County.
During the mid part of the 20th century, baseball grew in popularity throughout the South. It wasn't because of the Atlanta Braves however. The Braves were still in Milwaukee. It was in large part thanks to Jackie Robinson and his courageous breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson opened the door for a huge talent pool. But before Robinson, blacks played in the textile leagues throughout the South. And it's in these leagues where so much of that talent never found its way to the Show.
After the Civil War, the textile industry blossomed throughout the South. Textile baseball teams started cropping up in the late 1800s as a way for workers to spend leisure time and socialize with each other. Bibb Manufacturing opened its mill in Porterdale and was a part of one such league.
The Porterdale Blue Caps were the premier team in Newton County in the 1960s. The Blue Caps, managed by Carl McKnight, were sponsored by Bibb. The textile company provided uniforms and gave the team a dozen baseballs for each game. The Blue Caps played teams from all over middle Georgia. Bibb sponsored another team in Macon and the two teams would play at Porterdale Field or the Newton County Fairgrounds.
The Blue Caps played fierce competition. Several players who played in these types of leagues were good enough to play in the majors. But most of them didn't. Players like John "Blue Moon" Odom would go on to anchor the pitching staff for the Oakland A's after his days at Macon. But players like Willie Roy Grier and the Freeman brothers, Junior with his assortment of off-speed stuff, and Norman with his 100 mph plus fastball, devastated hitters in contrasting ways.
The black players in Newton County before integration in the 1970s didn't have high school teams. Teams like the Blue Caps were it. Throughout the county, communities such as Spring Hill, Nelson Heights, Needmore and Oxford all fielded teams of black players.
Former and current Newton County residents were a part of those teams. Teams like the Blue Caps eventually were broken up much like the Negro Leagues were in professional baseball. Integration was a long, difficult process in the South. In the 70s, black players started playing high school baseball and eventually on American Legion teams. But those days in the textile leagues is an important part of baseball history in Newton County. The Blue Caps played three games a week - once during the week and twice on a Saturday and were often forced to call games early because they'd lose all their balls in the river in Porterdale. That was of little consequence. Teams like the Blue Caps were vital to the growth of baseball and society.
Look at baseball today. There are as many Latino players as blacks and whites. Even Asian players dot the pro game landscape nowadays. Baseball truly reflects the American culture - the land of opportunity. Then again, baseball has always been like that.