NEW WINDSOR - "What you like you know."
These five words resounded throughout Empowerment Temple International Sunday night. The speaker, Gilbert Hernandez Black, emphatically uttered them. After all, they referred to his life-long passion, baseball. A former Brave and Negro League Baseball Player, Black played for several teams, including the Indianapolis Clowns, who Hank Aaron, as well as a host of other Major League Baseball Players claimed on their resume. Although extremely talented, especially on the mound, Blacks’ road to baseball stardom was by no means an easy one.
The close to 80 year old was on hand, in celebration of Black History Month, to relay that message to both adults and youth. Immediately recalling his days as a "juvenile delinquent," Black talked about skipping school as a New York City youth, so he could catch as many glimpses as possible of nearby baseball games. Those "hooky" stints were the beginning of something special, a relentless desire to play ball, at any cost. Before long, the talented Black pitched his way to a 15-1 sophomore, Varsity Baseball season at Stamford High School in Connecticut. His baseball prowess caught the eyes of several people, landing him a spot in the limited professional arena available at the time, Negro League Baseball. Black’s talk centered upon retelling some memorable times from those days; not all the memories were pleasant.
"I wasn’t allowed to stay in a white hotel or eat in a white restaurant," said Black, who, like all of his teammates made very little money playing professionally. "In Spring Training, the white people in West Palm Beach were great, but they had to sit in a separate section and we weren’t able to interact at all with them."
Black even recalled a time when a white police officer approached him in center field while playing in Biloxi, Mississipi. Because of his light skin color, he was misconstrued by some as white....a no, no when it came to playing ball with African-americans Once the officer was assured of his color, he allowed him to continue playing. And play he did. Not once did Black allow the discriminatory setting to disrupt his love for the game. Several people in Sunday’s audience asked how he was able to endure.
"You couldn’t buck the system; it was what it was," said Black. "I just love baseball; it doesn’t matter if you are white, or black, or Puerto Rican, you can play it."
However, Black respects something even more: education. When questions surfaced about advice for today’s young African-american athletes, he was quick to respond.
"Sports is great, but school is what matters; no matter how good you are at your sport, go to school and keep your mind on it," advised Black. "Remember, no matter how good you are at your sport, there are 100s just like you out there that are just as good, so try to get the highest marks possible and get a scholarship."
Black continues to follow his baseball passion. Despite his age, he is able to play a game of catch. He travels around the country speaking about the priceless lessons he garnered during his baseball career. Imbibed in those tales is something most listeners can’t help but walk away with feeling, strength.
"I have had bottles and cans, and many insults thrown at me during my baseball playing days," relayed Black, donning a grey shirt with the quote, ‘For the brothers who played, but never got paid.’ "But none of it really ever got to me, because I just really love baseball, and that’s what matters."