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Nationals appreciate Negro Leagues history

Nationals appreciate Negro Leagues history

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KANSAS CITY -- Several members of the Nationals -- shortstop Ian Desmond, center fielder Denard Span, outfielder Scott Hairston and first-base coach Tony Tarasco -- received a history lesson late Saturday morning as they paid a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Museum president Bob Kendrick did an excellent job of telling them the history of the Negro Leagues, which lasted from 1920-60. Kendrick told members of the Nationals stories that ranged from Satchel Paige's accomplishments to the segregation the Negro League players had to go through in the south. Kendrick even told amazing stories about every Negro League player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"I respect the Negro Leagues so much and the players that came before me, whether they were black or white," Desmond said. "I've never been to the Hall of Fame. It's just so awesome. These guys paved the way.

"[The Negro Leagues] had 50,000 fans at their games. People would come and support them. And then they were nobodies. They couldn't get in a restaurant. They were very popular, but they were nobodies. They never got the recognition they should have had, but they still worked their butts off and they played an exciting game. ... I hope they are looking down at me and saying, "Way to go, kid. Keep it going. You are making us proud."

Span was amazed to hear that Cool Papa Bell was considered the fastest player in baseball history. Span loved hearing about how Bell was able to flick the light switch and go into his bed before the lights went off.

"Being African American and just hearing the stories brought a smile to my face," Span said.

Span believes he couldn't handle the racial tension that the Negro Leagues players went through. He went so far as to call them strong individuals.

"I can't imagine going through a fraction of what they went through and still try to play the game they love," Span said.

The highlight of the tour occurred when Kendrick showed a picture of Hairston's grandfather, Sam, who won the Triple Crown while playing for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1950. That year, Sam hit .424 with 17 home runs and 71 RBIs in 70 games.

Scott was with his wife, Jill, and two sons, Lannan and Dallas, when Kendrick talked about Scott's grandfather. The look on Scott's face showed a man who was proud of his baseball heritage.

"It was a proud moment. That was the first time I had seen [the photo]. I had never seen the museum before," Hairston said. "To see it in person was very special. I wanted to have my kids there, my wife. I wanted to have them soak it in, too. It was like a pause in time. It's very special.

"My grandfather started it all. He went through a lot to establish himself in the game. He did that. I've always been proud of him. Before he passed away, he made sure we knew that."

Span had no idea until Saturday that Hairston's baseball history goes back to the Negro Leagues.

"I was surprised. I knew his dad played, but I didn't know the blood in his family went all the way back to the Negro Leagues," Span said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashinNats.. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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