The documentary “Harvard Park,” which features former major league baseball stars Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, should inspire a lot of African-American kids to play more baseball in the inner city. The sports film shows how a neighborhood park in the tough section of South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s became a destination for a number of baseball legends.
BET will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson Day on Sunday, April 15, with a premiere of this documentary at 11 a.m. and on Centric at 11 p.m. The 88-minute film distributed by Sony Pictures TV shows a park that provided a safe haven for many players to sharpen their baseball skills and come back to the park where they worked with others during their professional careers.
The park played a big role in developing the careers of ex-major league standouts like Strawberry, who played for the New York Mets and New York Yankees, and Davis, who starred for the Cincinnati Reds as well as other prominent major and minor league players.
The film shows how Strawberry and Davis became friends playing at Harvard Park. The other baseball standouts that played there included Chris Brown, Barry Larkin, Kenny Williams, Damon Farmar, DeJon Watson, Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Lenny Harris and others. A number of players looked back at the impact playing baseball in a neighborhood where they came from, where they could play during the offseason and teach other players how to improve their games. Harvard Park was the place to be if you wanted to become a great player.
Strawberry and Davis, Renard Young and Diane Sokolow serve as executive producers on this documentary, directed by Bryan Coyne. Harvard Park is produced by Wild Life Productions in association with the Sokolow Company, and is distributed by Sony Pictures Television.
Strawberry and Davis provided a great deal of insight into how they became outstanding baseball players from this urban park. With this weekend belonging to Robinson, who broke the color line on April 15, 1947, as the first African-American player in the majors, Strawberry and Davis offer their views on his trailblazing efforts.
“My thing with Jackie is I said it before and I continue to say it,” Strawberry said. “There was no Darryl Strawberry if it wasn’t for Jackie. If he hadn’t crossed that line and been able to take the negative criticisms, the racial slurs and all the things and no handshakes and no one wanted to be his friend. He probably had to be alone every night and separate places when he traveled and stuff because of the color of his skin. Players today, and every player of color, should know the real history of them putting on a major league baseball uniform. They shouldn’t just run out there thinking they’re entitled to wear that uniform.
“There was a man who came way, way before you. I don’t think anyone has ever told them the history. There’s one that came way, way before you. There was one who opened the door for every player that had some type of different color of skin to play major league baseball. He’s the reason why you’re putting on this uniform. He’s the reason why your paycheck is the way it is today. He’s the reason why my paycheck was the way it was when I played baseball. I was always grateful for the fact that his wonderful wife Rachel, they had to endure so much negative criticism about him. I can just imagine. I couldn’t bear it. I don’t think I would have wanted to bear what he went through at that particular time.”
Davis echoed Strawberry’s sentiments on Robinson.
“Whether the Black players today believe it or not, every player that came after Jackie is a part of Jackie,” Davis said. “It should always be there. But what bothers me is that it’s not mentioned enough. Two weeks before Jackie, a week after and that’s all that we get like it’s pinpointed to special occasions or where we represent what Jackie is all about and what he stood for and what him and his family endured.
“I couldn’t start to even fathom what it was like. I got a small peek or dose of racism compared to what Jackie did when I came in during the early ’80s. And to have someone as graceful, and encourageable as Jackie was, and people talk about it all the time. Jackie probably wasn’t the greatest Negro League player, but he was probably the best suited for what he was about to endure at that particular time mentally beyond his years. When Branch Rickey chose Jackie, it wasn’t for the moment. It was for days like now in 2012 where Blacks have that opportunity, and not just Blacks, but guys from Latin America, to have that opportunity because of the color of their skin.”