Softball Sundays at Garfield Park; Playing on Hallowed Ground
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” Jackie Robinson
Father’s Day 2009; EC Parker wanted to do something positive. Concerned with the continuous deaths of young Black men and the lack of positive opportunities within the community, he decided to take action. Along with his good friend Ted Evans Jr.and others, they came together with family and friends for a friendly but competitive game of Sunday softball.
What was intended as a one-time game instantly grew into a weekly event which has been held at field across the city and has found a home at Garfield park in the Central District.
Now known as “Black Love Softball Sundays”, more than 40 amateur players come together as a way to positively impact their community.
“It’s all about Black love,” Parker says, “we want people to know, don’t believe the hype, [the Black community is] more than what you see in the news.”
“We’re out here to do something positive,” says player Jacob Muune, “people bring their kids, elders come out, this is good for the community; it’s good to see Black men and Black people together having a good time. We are more than what the news says we are.”
Muune is right. For news media, coverage of violence and negative stereotypes is disproportionate to everything else. Every few weeks someone is shot, every few months, a murder is committed which usually goes unsolved.
Such is the case of Quincy Coleman. The 15 year old student was shot to death on Halloween 2008 right next to Garfield playfield. As is customary, Coleman was typecast in the media and police as a gang member, leaving friends and family fuming, and rightfully so. Quincy Coleman was loved- he lived a life as valuable as any other, and he did nothing to deserve being gunned down in such a senseless way.
This past weekend as more than 80 spectators and players enjoyed the game, the food and the beautiful Seattle weather just steps away from where Coleman was gunned down, one young man stepped away from the group to pay his respects.
A makeshift memorial marks the spot where Coleman was struck down. Jamala Myers Jr. busied himself with tidying the area, removing dead leaves and old candle wax. His eyes weigh heavy with the memories of Quincy; he does not want his friend defined by the manner in which he died.
“He was a good kid,” he says matter-of-factly, “he told me, and others, to stay in school, and basically he was like a big brother to me.” Myers, a student at Garfield who lives in the neighborhood lights up when the discussion turns to Softball Sundays, “I think it’s great, my dad is down here, and it’s just a way for adults and their kids to come together and just share the positive things in life, instead of the negative.”
Aaron Sebastian Bossett plays every Sunday and wouldn’t miss it for the world. “This is where it’s at,” he says confidently about the weekly game. For Bossett and those who play with him, it’s more than just a game.
“It’s a great stress reliever,” he says with a chuckle, “and the fellowship, just the opportunity to all come together is great- you get to see the human side of people, who they really are, not who they’re trying to be.”
Bossett says the game is an equalizer for him and his eldest son. “He’s used to me being the disciplinarian, the dad in a traditional way, but when I miss a play, he’s critiquing my game.”
There really is something special about Softball Sundays- spiritual, even. People come from beyond Seattle’s city limits to play or just to observe. It’s fun- something lacking of late. The impact of this simple yet beloved game may not be quantifiable in a traditional sense, but its potential is limitless.
But as it turns out, the crack of the bat at Garfield park is a tradition that goes back to the 1890’s and Seattle’s Negro League days. Like today, Softball Sundays of back-in-the-day brought the community together in a way nothing else could.
Local baseball enthusiast, writer and attorney Lyle Wilson penned Sunday Afternoons at Garfield Park, which relays Seattle’s rich history of Negro baseball.
The history books point to the Seattle Steelheads, the official Negro League team, but just as important is the unofficial team that was not a part of the League and existed for years at Garfield park- the Seattle Royal Giants known over the years as the Seattle American Giants, the Carver Athletic Club and later the Bird Land Pirates. There was even a Negro ladies softball team, the Brown Bombers, named after Joe Lewis.
Baseball at the park on Sundays was the place to be.
“You went to church, you came home and changed and maybe packed a lunch and you went to the games in and around the city,” explains Wilson. Baseball was such a vital part of the community, “if you weren’t at the game your absence was noticed.” Of today’s players he says warmly, “they are really on hallowed ground.”
All photos courtesy Terrell Elmore