HOUSTON -- Since his ownership group was approved to purchase the Astros two years ago, Jim Crane has been a constant champion for diversity -- a cause which helped lead to the hiring of Bo Porter as the team's second African-American manager last year and several off-the-field initiatives in the community.
That's why Crane aggressively pursued the chance to play host to next year's Civil Rights Game and its ancillary activities, which were developed by Major League Baseball to pay tribute to those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Americans.
MLB and the Astros announced during a joint news conference Tuesday at Minute Maid Park that the 2014 Civil Rights Game will be played May 30 in Houston when the Astros meet the Orioles. The eighth installment of the game will be televised nationally on MLB Network.
"We made it clear when we got involved a couple of years ago when we bought the team that we were very interested in diversity and we'd be a big supporter of it," Crane said.
Ancillary activities such as the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, the Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion and a youth baseball and softball event will all take place that week. Ticket sales and more information on the 2014 Civil Rights Game and ancillary events will be made available at a later date on MLB.com/civilrightsgame and Astros.com/civilrightsgame.
"I am pleased to announce the Houston Astros, who have demonstrated a substantial commitment to supporting diversity throughout our industry, as the hosts of Major League Baseball's 2014 Civil Rights Game," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "The Civil Rights Game and its surrounding events are an opportunity not only for our game to honor those who have fought for equality throughout American history, but also to remind us that the battle against injustice continues. As a social institution that features unprecedented diversity of all races and ethnicities throughout our sport, we are proud to join the Astros in remembering this important era in history."
Crane was joined at the news conference by Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson, who was born in nearby Beaumont and is Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development. Joining them were Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan and Porter.
Former Astros outfielders Jimmy Wynn and Jose Cruz also attended the news conference, along with Astros ownership partner Shawn Taylor.
"We're very proud to be able to bring that to Houston," Robinson said. "It's well-deserved for the organization for what they're doing for diversity. ... It's held in honor of those in and out of baseball who fought for equal rights in all America. That's what it's about. It's not just baseball people. It's the people that have pushed for the equal rights program and been involved in it, young and old."
In 2010, the Astros became the first MLB club to have its own MLB Urban Youth Academy, which is a network of MLB facilities around the country that provide free, year-round baseball and softball instruction to young people from underserved and urban areas.
Through its Community Leaders initiative started by Crane, the Astros have been revitalizing several youth fields in inner-city areas and have been responsible for their upkeep. Last year, the Astros played host to both the Urban Invitational, a nationally televised, round-robin collegiate baseball tournament designed by MLB to give historically black colleges and universities and their baseball programs national exposure, as well as the second annual MLB Diversity Business Summit.
"We want to continue to support these events," Crane said. "It's very important for baseball and very important for the community. The Civil Rights Game is a great way to honor those who have fought for equality and promote diversity in the game moving forward.
"We've really worked hard to promote diversity and looked at everything we can do to help, and you can continue to count on the Astros to do that moving forward. We consider it a great honor to host this event."
Here's more on the events surrounding the Civil Rights Game:
• Baseball & the Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion, May 29: A group of prominent participants will discuss the pivotal role baseball played in the civil rights movement and the game's continued presence as a social institution in American society.
Previous panelists have included Martin Luther King III, human rights activist and eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Sharon Robinson, MLB educational programming consultant and daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson; Dolores Huerta, activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers; Ambassador Shabazz, Ambassador-at-large for Belize and eldest daughter of Malcolm X; Branch Rickey III, Pacific Coast League president and grandson of the late Branch Rickey; Thomas Tull, chairman & CEO of Legendary Entertainment and producer of the feature film "42"; Arte Moreno, principal owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Kenny Williams, executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox; Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Dave Winfield; Dodgers legend Don Newcombe; Hall of Fame journalist and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons; and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, among others.
"The Roundtable has been very, very successful because you have different types of personalities there to answer questions that normally wouldn't be answered," Robinson said.
• MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, May 30: The MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon will honor the recipients of this year's MLB Beacon Awards, which recognize individuals whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.
Past recipients of MLB Beacon Awards include: Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Ernie Banks; and also Buck O'Neil, Newcombe, Bo Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Ruby Dee, Aretha Franklin, Morgan Freeman, John H. Johnson, Billie Jean King, Spike Lee, Congressman John Lewis, Carlos Santana, three of the founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Vera Clemente, MLB goodwill ambassador and wife of the late Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.
Keynote speakers at previous MLB Beacon Award events have included Commissioner Selig, President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Andrew Young, Reverend Joseph Lowery, Julian Bond and Michael Wilbon.
• Youth Clinic, TBD: The youth baseball and softball clinic is an event designed to give young players locally the opportunity to interact with and learn from current and former players. The clinic will take place at the Houston Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy, which attracted approximately 1,300 participants in 2013. Interactive aspects will include batting cages, pitching machines and baserunning stations.
The Civil Rights Game began in Memphis, Tenn., in 2007, centering on an exhibition game between the Cardinals and Indians. After another exhibition game in Memphis in '08, the Civil Rights Game moved to Cincinnati (2009-10), then Atlanta (2011-12) as regular-season games, and last year was hosted in Chicago by the White Sox.
Robinson said Tuesday the game will rotate on a year-by-year basis to a different Major League park.
While much of the South was deeply affected during the civil rights movement with violence threatening the well-being of many, Houston played a vital role in achieving peaceful desegregation, making it a crucial part of the overall civil rights effort.
Texas State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who lives in the Acres Homes neighborhood of north Houston that houses the Urban Youth Academy, spoke with pride about the Civil Rights Game coming to his hometown.
"The Civil Rights Game, to me, represents the evolution of baseball and evolution of America and serves as a reminder that unless we continue to be vigilant, so many kids who will not play, have not played, will lose their history and will not continue to have the fervor to fight to make their dreams come true," Turner said.