Legendary Negro League Star Honored for a Century of Inspiration

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – The 2003 Positive Image Awards proved more than a festive party and successful fundraising event. It was an evening of genuine inspiration and thoughtful reflection led by a man who is a living American icon of hope, John “Buck” O’Neil. It began with an introduction by emcee Rick Monday that left a lump in everyone’s throat. It seems Rick had met Buck back in 1965, his rookie season with the Kansas City A’s. Buck provided an enduring impression on that young rookie and Rick used the occasion to thank him for that lasting touch, left so many years ago. O’Neill and Monday embraced warmly as he reached the stage and then our 2003 Ernie Banks Positive Image Award winner began mesmerizing the BAD devotees with a song.

Buck followed with recollections of a playing & managing career in the Negro Leagues and coaching & scouting career in Major League Baseball that might make the average listener inquire if he wasn’t regretful that he was born too late to have enjoyed a successful playing career in the Majors. But Buck will have not of that. “I was born right on time,” he humbly explained to an eager crowd. Right on time to see Jackie Robinson break the color barrier that separated Major League and Negro League Baseball. Right on time to stand on a street corner with pitching great Satchel Page in a southern U.S. town where slaves were once auctioned and realize that the two of them would now be playing professional baseball in that town, albeit in a segregated league.

Part historian, part motivational preacher, Buck O’Neil instructed us, “Don’t feel bad for me. I’ve had a glorious life playing baseball and I hate no one.” From there, this baseball legend who gained national prominence with his memorable narration of Ken Burns PBS documentary Baseball – entertained, motivated and enchanted as he spun memorable tales of his life – both on and off the field.

California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer was honored with BAD’s Positive Image for Action in Government award for his commitment to youth through education initiatives and tougher penalties for crimes against children. Lockyer rarely attends events like our gala, so BAD was thrilled to learn he had accepted our invitation to be honored. Unfortunately, the Attorney General suffered a painful back injury and was under doctor’s orders that day to stay in bed.

Accepting Positive Image for Action in the Community honors were the McDonald’s Operators Association of Southern California and Simi Valley Planning Commissioner Bob Swoish. McDonald’s has been a steadfast sponsor of BAD’s Southern California minor league tours for three straight summers. McDonald’s Homeruns for Life clinics now boast attendance of 300-500 children per clinic. Local owners Clay Paschen III and Neil Ruby proudly represented McDonald’s.

Hailing from BAD’s hometown, Bob Swoish was lauded for over 40 years of community dedication. The truth is, when he is not on the road with his current job at Northrop Gruman Corporation, you will find Bob chairing or serving on one or more city, church, or YMCA committees.

Special guests were abundant including former Negro League stars Neale Henderson and Ross Davis, who surprised Buck upon his arrival. Former pro Ted Milner, now Founder and CEO of the Black Baseball Players Association joined us as well. With focus on players who excelled in a league of their own, it was only fitting to welcome All American Girls Professional Baseball League star Pepper Davis. Honored by Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Pepper’s own baseball legacy helped inspire the movie A League of Their Own for which she served as key advisor to director Penny Marshall.

If you missed the fun, spirit and excitement, then make plans early to attend next year’s event. We are scheduled to celebrate all over again on January 29, 2004 at the gala’s regular home – the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, California.

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