With baseball's spring training in full swing, the opening of an exhibit at a local museum has good timing.
"Buck: Right on Time" follows the life and career of John "Buck" O'Neil, considered by many to be the father of Negro league baseball. It opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.
The traveling exhibit is on loan from the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The exhibit will also feature photos and memorabilia on loan from several Tampa Bay residents who at one time played in the league.
"We are expecting at least two former players to talk about the Negro leagues," said LeAnn J. Elliot, who serves on the board of trustees for the Woodson museum.
"The youth really need to come to see this ... to realize that African- Americans played professional baseball as far back as the 1800s. And for the little girls to see that women like Toni Stone," the first female player in the Negro Leagues, "played right alongside the men."
Under new leadership, the museum has been trying to host timely events and exhibits in its main gallery and Legacy Garden.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to host this event, especially with baseball season just around the corner — the timing appears to be perfect," said Terri Lipsey Scott, chairwoman of the board of trustees at the museum.
"Friday we'll have a reception in the garden. We will have players who will talk about their experience during the times of segregation. We've extended an invitation to the Wildwood Little League to host the evening," Scott said.
"I'm hoping they will gain a historical perspective. These younger players are standing on the shoulders of giants," Scott said.
"Too often this history has been obliterated. There were foot soldiers that paved the way for these children. This will give them the opportunity to know from whence they came."
One such "foot soldier" is Walter Gibbons, who played for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1947 to 1949 before serving in the military in Korea in 1950. Gibbons, who provided some of the memorabilia for the exhibit, agreed with Scott.
"I hope that (the kids) take something from it. We don't have American black kids playing baseball anymore. They all want to play football or basketball," he said, "and for some reason the major leagues no longer draft the black kids out of high school. They won't build baseball complexes in the state for the American black kids. A lot of black kids don't even know about Jackie Robinson."
Gibbons was drafted into the Tampa Bay Rays last year at the age of 80.
"It was great," said Gibbons, laughing, "but they waited kind of late."
Gibbons said he thinks Major League Baseball may begin to draft one Negro league player per city that has a major league team until all of the surviving 30 or so players are in.
The arrival of "Buck: Right on Time" will feature question-and-answer sessions and autograph signing with Billy Felder, shortstop for the Newark Eagles, Gibbons and possibly pitcher Raydell Maddox, who played for the Indianapolis Clowns and led the American Negro League in strikeouts for two years in a row.
The exhibit will run through April 11. Admission is $5.
Robert La Rocca is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.