Buck Leonard First Baseman’s Hall of Fame Inaugural Inductees Announced.
Induction Ceremony and Gala on October 29th at Imperial Centre.
September 16, 2022 – Rocky Mount, N.C.
On September 8th, more than two dozen dignitaries, press, and special guests were on hand at the Historic Buck Leonard home to hear Mayor Sandy Roberson’s “Buck Leonard Day” proclamation, as well as statements from City Councilman TJ Walker and interim City Manager Peter Varney, who recalled the first time he met Buck.
The Buck Leonard Day program was hosted by Buck Leonard Association Board Chair, Natarlin Best, Attorney at Law, who called it “a pleasure to serve an organization that prioritizes the education and well-being of our inner-city youth,” and as she introduced CEO Rose Hunter, “one that is led by someone with an attainable vision for our Beloved Community.”
In statements from both Hunter and Walker, we were reminded of the rich history just blocks away from Buck’s front steps. From old Booker T. Washington HS, where we heard King’s dream; to old Talbert Park where the Homestead Grays played; and the Mitchell House – former Greenbook lodging home, where the likes of the Harlem Globetrotters stayed, now future home of the Buck Leonard Community Resource Center.
The program was closed by COO Brian Patterson, who announced the names of the first 7 men who will be inducted into the Buck Leonard First Baseman’s Hall of Fame at the Buck Leonard Association annual Gala on October 29th at the Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences.
The Buck Leonard First Base Hall of Fame was created as a feature of significance for Rocky Mount, that recognizes and celebrates positive role models for the residents and visitors of our community. It has been established by the Buck Leonard Association for Sports & Human Enrichment in 2022, to coincide with the 50-year anniversary of Mr. Leonard’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For consideration, nominees must have had careers of marked accomplishment in baseball, business, and/or community service, while consistently modeling qualities of, integrity, leadership, determination, and perseverance. As ballplayers, nominees must have played a notable portion of their careers at the position of 1st base.
With goals for diversity and the representation of success on and off the ballfield, the nomination and selection processes give special consideration for: Former Negro Leaguers, former Rocky Mount minor Leaguers, fellow North Carolinians, and all historically underrepresented peoples. Participants from all-levels of diamond sports are considered.
The inaugural class as officially announced September 8, 2022: Martín Dihigo, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Buck O’Neil, Tony Perez, Joe Staton & Ben Taylor
• Martín Dihigo – is widely considered the be one of the greatest two-way players in baseball history, along with Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani. The Matanzas native was the first man to be a member of the Hall of Fame, Salon de la Fama (Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame), and Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. Dihigo played every position during his career, which ran from 1922 to 1950. A top hurler who won over 250 wins as a pro, he also won two batting titles. 1st base was his second-most played position behind shortstop. Dihigo was the teammate and coach of Buck Leonard on multiple occasions in Mexico.
Highlighted by an intimate roundtable discussion featuring the progeny of three Hall of Fame Negro Leagues legends, the Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Human Enrichment (BL-ASHE) wrapped up more than a week of community-building events on Saturday night, with their annual gala, “Baseball, Jazz & All That Swing!”
Hosted at the historic Booker T. Washington Theater in downtown Rocky Mount, NC, the event was kicked off with the introduction a Negro Leagues baseball panel featuring Sean Gibson (Great-Grandson of Josh Gibson), Vanessa Ivy Rose (Granddaughter of Norman “Turkey” Stearnes), and Jonathan Hunter (Grandson of Buck Leonard). Rounding out the panel were former Negro Leaguer Charles Walters and Filmmaker Matt Emmerich, whose 16-minute feature film about former Major Leaguer Sam Bowens of Wilmington, was later debuted in its first public showing.
The multi-week celebration began October 15th at Rocky Mount Mills, with a reception for “Black Diamond,” a Negro Leagues baseball art installation by artist Darryl Matthews – himself the son of a former Negro Leaguer. Presented by Drinking Gourd Gallery of Raleigh, Black Diamond is on display in the lobby near Prime Smokehouse through October 31st.
The reception began a busy week of events, including additional exhibits and activities at the Imperial Centre, guided tours of the historic Buck Leonard home, an RBI Youth Baseball clinic, and the inaugural Buck Leonard Golf Classic for Inner City Youth Sports & S.T.E.A.M. Held in partnership with Evolve Golf and Education, the friendly tournament at Belmont Lake Golf Club attracted many new friends and several old familiar faces including NBA great Buck Williams.
Each event of the week and the gala itself allowed CEO Rose Hunter and the BL-ASHE board to highlight their progress over the last year, including several key partnerships that have the 22-year old organization poised for growth in 2022 and beyond.
The gala was emceed by playwright Christine Melton of Melton Pot Productions, who dubbed the evening, “a celebration of heroes and hometowns.” Indeed, the evening felt every bit a coming-out party for a revitalized BL-ASHE and their partners in the inner-city community and beyond. Rev. Richard Joyner delivered an inspiring invocation and was followed by examples of a dynamic and growing Rocky Mount community from Downtown Development Manager Kevin Harris and Philanthropist/Entrepreneur Charles Roberson.
Perhaps the best news of the night for the city of Rocky Mount, is the emergence of a new partnership between BL-ASHE and Monk Youth Jazz of New Haven, CT. With a shared commitment to youth S.T.E.A.M. education and community preservation, the two family-run organizations of Rocky Mount’s favorite sons collaborated for the first time this Spring. With contributing content from BL-ASHE board members Dr. Lisa Nelson and Dr. Kim Koo, the inaugural Monk Saturday Academy was a series of educational modules taught by African American and other professionals of color, and designed to expose young learners to careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics.
As the celebration of Baseball, Jazz & All That Swing closed with a recorded performance from the Monk family, it was clear that “All That Swing” includes a bevy of new partnerships and exciting opportunities for the Buck Leonard Association and the city of Rocky Mount.
When asked her final thoughts of the evening, Ms. Hunter – the matriarch of the Leonard family and BL-ASHE co-founder said simply, “That’s the future.”