The biggest crowds at FanFest yesterday were standing in line to get the autographs of today's Orioles baseball players, but those visitors who ventured into one corner of the Baltimore Convention Center stumbled across a piece of past glory -- an exhibit highlighting the Negro Leagues.
"Spectacular," said Jerry Chrisman of Severn. "Why didn't they do it last year?
"There is not enough information out there for people to grasp what happened in the early days," he said.
Carroll H. Hynson Jr., chairman of the state Commission on African-American History and Culture, could only smile.
Hynson believed he could help educate baseball fans about a piece of African-American history by persuading the Orioles to underwrite the cost of bringing the traveling exhibit to Baltimore for the team's annual FanFest.
He saw the exhibit last year in Philadelphia. "I was so impressed and moved when I saw it. I had to bring it to Baltimore," Hynson said.
Today, Ernest Burke, who pitched for the Baltimore Elite Giants from 1946 to 1948, will chat with visitors and sign autographs from noon to 1 p.m.
"There are so many young people who have never heard of the Negro Leagues," Burke said. "I really shock them when I say where I played and who I played for."
The exhibit chronicles the history of the Negro Leagues from their founding in 1920 to their dissolution in 1947, with photographs and information about the most famous players and videos of interviews with participants in the leagues. Also included are cases with replicas of jerseys, hats, gloves and a baseball bat signed by Hall of Famer Buck O'Neil.
Western Union commissioned the traveling exhibit three years ago to celebrate the league's contribution to baseball, said Vincent Patrick, a company event marketing manager. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., is curator for the exhibit, which has traveled to festivals and expositions in cities including New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
In the past decade, interest in the Negro Leagues has blossomed as its players have been celebrated at baseball events such as the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking major league baseball's color barrier.
Baltimore's second team in the Negro Leagues was the Baltimore Black Sox.
FanFest, which is expected to draw about 17,000 people this weekend, continues at the Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. Admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for children and senior citizens.
Pub Date: 1/24/99