JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Harold Craw saw an opening and took it.
He wanted the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp to connect with the area’s storied and diverse baseball tradition. What better way to do that than by connecting several local schools with Jacksonville’s past and making an event out of it.
Well, that initial plan has grown and continues to grow this year as the Jumbo Shrimp announced their plans for a festive Black History Month on Tuesday afternoon at JP Small Park. Jacksonville is partnering with the Jax Melanin Market for all of its events throughout February, including a parade on Feb. 18 before the HBCU Heritage Classic between Edward Waters University and LeMoyne-Owen College.
Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby said that the city’s Triple-A franchise owes it to Jacksonville to continue to play a lead role in growing the game and making sure to honor the city’s rich baseball past. That goes hand in hand with making efforts to bring in more diversity to the game of baseball. On Major League Baseball’s Opening Day of 2022, just 7.2% of players on rosters were Black.
“This is important work and if we’re serious about being great stewards of this franchise in the community, to me there’s nothing more important than putting ourselves first and foremost and in a leading place in this,” he said.
Much of the groundwork of Jacksonville’s efforts are the vision of Craw, the general manager of the Jumbo Shrimp. His thoughts grew into the Heritage Classic, which matches baseball teams at Raines and Ribault high schools for a preseason game at 121 Financial Ballpark. Instead of Vikings and Trojans jerseys for that game, both schools don customized Jacksonville Red Caps jerseys. The Red Caps were a Negro League team that called Jacksonville home from 1938-42. The fourth installment of that game will be Feb. 15 at 11:05 a.m.
“I’ve been stopped numerous times by players that played in the game, that just want to say thank you for allowing them the opportunity to play in the game,” Craw said on Tuesday. “I’ve also seen guys that have moved on and whether they play here Edward Waters college or at FSCJ, I’ve been able to run into them and they still remember that time that they were on the field.”
It’s also led into Craw and the Jumbo Shrimp to build off that high school success and create the HBCU Heritage Classic. Edward Waters University will host LeMoyne-Owen College on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. Tigers head coach Reginald Johnson II said that playing in the game last season was vital for the program. EWU went on to win the Division II Black College World Series in 2022.
“Actually, that game last year, from them experiencing that, actually took us on to our winning streak,” Johnson said. “It allowed them to be able to strive for something much more now that they’ve already experienced a brief minute of it.”