Mets make somber museum trip

Mets make somber museum trip

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Two rows of drinking glasses, neatly assembled amongst a spattering of teacups and saucers, decorated a table inside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. Nearby, a few cigarette butts sat idly in an ashtray, seemingly fresh from the pack. Two beds lined the far wall, pillows propped and sheets neatly tucked.

Willie Randolph stared at the scene for a long moment, his expression never changing. This, he knew, was where Martin Luther King had been shot.

"So many things were running through my mind," Randolph said. "It was very emotional. But I'm really, really happy I was here."

Randolph and his Mets toured the National Civil Rights Museum on Friday night, in preparation for their role in Saturday's second annual Civil Rights Game. The museum, in a nod to a dark page of history, is situated in the Lorraine Motel, site of King's assassination in 1968. Players viewed a replica of room 306, where King had stayed on April 4, 1968, and peered out onto the balcony where he was shot.

That, perhaps more than anything, grabbed their collective interest. Even while their tour guide was still explaining the context of King's fateful evening, several Mets shuffled off into the room to take a glimpse at the balcony. There, a cameraman pointed out a narrow window across the street, where King's sniper had hidden. Carlos Beltran translated the story into Spanish for Luis Castillo, while the rest of the group looked on in silence.

"[That was] probably the most emotional part of the tour," Marlon Anderson said. "The person who fought for non-violence died of the ultimate violence. But at the same time, he opened doors. You can't speak enough about Martin Luther King."

The message was not lost on Anderson, one of two black players on the Mets roster. His parents and grandparents had often told him stories of the hardships they endured. For Anderson, Friday's trip added images to go with their words, and brought many of those stories to life.

"It was definitely eye-opening," he said. "There were a lot of different emotions going through. I've heard stories talking about some of the segregation. It's rough. I'm glad I didn't have to live through that, but I do respect the ones that did live through it, and the doors that they opened for me and the things that I'm able to do because of it."

The tour, in essence, was a stroll through history. The museum recreated some of the civil rights movement's most poignant moments, including King's first march on Washington and Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of a city bus.

The latter was one of the museum's interactive exhibits, with an actual replica of a city bus planted in the middle of the hallway. Most of the Mets crammed inside while their tour guide discussed the event, noting how black passengers sometimes had to board the bus, pay their fare, then go back outside and reenter through a rear door. Often, buses would speed off before their paying black customers could scurry back inside.

"This country's come a long way," Randolph said, "but there's still a long way to go. It's kind of weird that it really wasn't that long ago."

Perhaps that's what made the scene in room 306 so chilling. Everything seemed intact, from the beds to the table to the chairs to the balcony. Even the window across the street was unsettling, with a dim yellow light shining out from underneath the glass.

"It's kind of a clear way of reminiscing," Randolph said. "When I saw some of the images, some of the pictures, it kind of brought me back a little bit. It's just a special night. I'm really going to remember this for a long time."

Everything about the motel, in fact, seemed lost in time. Just around the corner, the building's white neon sign buzzed in the cold Memphis air, same as it did 40 years ago. Randolph, meanwhile, still hadn't changed his expression. Finally, he shifted his eyes away from King's room, took a short glance outside, then turned and walked away.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.