Willie Mays, Billie Jean King and Harry Belafonte will be honored when the Civil Rights Game returns to Cincinnati as the Reds host the Cardinals on May 15 for the second year of a two-year agreement with Major League Baseball.
Also to be honored at the Beacon Awards luncheon prior to the game are Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson and founder of The Jackie Robinson Foundation, and renowned recording artist Lena Horne.
The Reds sold out last year's game, which paid tribute to Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali and Bill Cosby. Solomon said that will be tough to match.
"Any of you who happened to be at that particular game (last year) saw a packed house, people moved to cheers, people standing up in unision, learning, experiencing and be very proud of this great game of baseball," executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon said at a press conference this morning at Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark. "Commissioner (Bud) Selig and I stood side by side and said it will be hard to match this great game. Commissioner Selig is a visionary, and I asked him, 'Do you have any suggestions.' He said, 'That's your job.' "
Triple-A Memphis hosted the first two Civil Rights Games, beginning in 2007 at AutoZone Park in a series of preseason exhibitions. The event was the brainchild of former Memphis general manager Dave Chase, who worked with Solomon and MLB to make it a reality. Poor weather and expensive tickets resulted in smaller-than-expected crowds for both games in Memphis, and ultimately resulted in MLB moving the event to a big league ballpark in 2009. Chase was not included in last year's ceremonies and was not mentioned among those responsible for the Civil Rights Game at today's press conference.
"When we first started this, this was an exhibition contest in Memphis," Reds Hall of Famer and ESPN broadcaster Joe Morgan said at today's press conference. "The games here in Cincinnati are part of the major league schedule. It has gone from an exhibition to a great event."
MLB's two-year agreement with Cincinnati as the host of the Civil Rights Game expires after this season. Solomon did not address possible locations for next year's event in his prepared remarks, but has previously said that other major league teams were interested in hosting it.
"No matter where we have the game, Cincinnati will be the measuring stick to see if it is excellent or not," Solomon said.
This year's round table discussion will take place on Friday, May 14, and will be moderated by Harvard professor Charles Ogletree. Panelists are scheduled to include actor/comedian Mark Curry, former women's tennis player Zena Garrison, Morgan, former Red/MLB commentator Barry Larkin and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.
The Youth Summitt and MLB's Wanna Play? program will return to Fountain Square outside of the Great American Ballpark — last year's event drew several thousand kids to the area. Included in this year's itinerary is a question-and-answer session with actor Josh Hutcherson and teen saxophone artist B.K. Jackson. Harold Reynolds and Larkin will host the event.
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