Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson “Fergie” Jenkins has not forgotten his baseball roots. After a 19-year Major League career that included 284 wins and 3,192 strikeouts, Jenkins still fondly remembers his time in the minors, which included a stint in the Southern League.
As a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1964, the seven-time 20 game winner played at Rickwood Field and reflected on those times before yesterday’s 18th Annual Rickwood Classic.
“I played here in the ‘60s,” Jenkins said. “The All-Star Game was here in ’64 when I was 19 years old. There are a lot of memories that you try to bring back and the Southern League was one step of me getting to the big leagues so it was fun playing here.”
Home to the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League, Rickwood Field was used as a site for scenes filmed in the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson. Although he never got a chance to play against him, Jenkins carries the utmost respect for Robinson and other African Americans of that era who paved the way for players like himself.
“Robinson was a pioneer,” Jenkins told the Smokies Radio Network Wednesday. “He had to suffer a lot of abuse for being one of the first athletes of color playing in the major leagues. Larry Doby was second and they don’t really feature a lot about Larry. He had to suffer a lot too. There was also Willie Mays and so many guys that had to feel some abuse but they got through it and that’s what made them great athletes.”
Rickwood Field is the oldest in-use ballpark in the United States and has seen some of the game’s biggest stars play there including Jenkins, Mays, Reggie Jackson, and Frank Thomas. With such historical significance taking place at the park, Jenkins stresses the importance of passing on that knowledge to today’s youth.
“History is very important in baseball,” Jenkins said. “A lot of kids don’t understand the history of the game. What it took to get where the game is now in 2013. There are a lot of things that have happened in the game and this is just part of history. This ballpark is well over 100 years old and so many players have played in this ballpark not just me included so there’s a ton of great athletes that came through this system.”
For Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins, the opportunity to be a part of the storied history is something that he will cherish forever.