The World Series presents the perfect opportunity to take a slight detour to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, located in the historic district of 18th & Vine, which in its heyday was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s to the 1960s.
What was once a hub of activity for homeowners, business and jazz music is now home of a slice of baseball history, a place where some of the best players in baseball are honored for carving out an impactful influence on the game, thanks to some of the game's greatest talent flourishing in a league that helped set the tone for today's Major League Baseball.
We remember Jackie Robinson for breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947, but the talent flow to the game of baseball began years -- decades, actually -- earlier with the formation of the Negro League in 1920. The league was put together at the Kansas City YMCA, located only blocks from where the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum stands today.
The Museum is geared up and ready to go for a celebration of baseball in Kansas City. As the baseball world descends upon this charming Midwestern town, the NLBM has several exciting activities planned to coincide with the World Series.
It will host a World Series Game 1 watch party on Tuesday. On Wednesday at 10 a.m. CT, Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, author and longtime MLB ambassador, will read to kids. At noon the same day, the museum will host members of the 1985 World Series champion Royals to reminisce about that special year in Kansas City baseball history. Willie Wilson and Frank White, among others, will be in attendance.
"I hope the thousands of baseball fans who come here gain an understanding and greater appreciation that there were two professional leagues operating in our country," said NLBM president Bob Kendrick. "One, we know a lot about -- the Major Leagues. The other, we know virtually nothing about -- the Negro Leagues."
The museum has reaped the benefits from the Royals' postseason success. Baseball fans hungry for more have flocked there this month, looking to soak in everything they can about the national pastime and its history.
"When people are excited about baseball, we are the other thing to do in Kansas City," Kendrick said. "It's had a tremendous impact. This time of year is usually quiet. It isn't quiet now. There is a buzz."
During the American League Championship Series, the NLBM welcomed many from both the Royals and Orioles fan bases.
"They just want to be around baseball," Kendrick said.
In that respect, the NLBM is a must-see. It tells the story of the founding of the Negro National League by Andrew "Rube" Foster in 1920, and its rise to prominence over the next several decades, during which it produced some of the greatest talent in baseball history -- not just in the African-American ranks, but of all time.
We know a lot about Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks and Monte Irvin from what they did in the Major Leagues. But they got their starts in the Negro Leagues, where the talent was churning long before Robinson was signed by the Dodgers.
"There were good young players in the Negro Leagues who developed into superstars in the Major Leagues," Kendrick said. "It's just a sample of the talent from the Negro Leagues. It's ludicrous to think that black players were only talented starting in 1947. The Major Leagues didn't get a lot of the superstar Negro League players. They were too old or beyond their prime in 1947."
The centerpiece of the museum is a mini-baseball field that houses life-size statues of the Negro Leagues greats. They're in position as if they're playing a game, and they're so true to life that you can see the expressions on their faces.
The players represented are the first group of Negro Leaguers to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. On one side is a statue of Buck O'Neil, as the manager of this All-Star team.
The beauty of this display? You first have to walk through the full length of the museum, learning about the struggles, talent and competition that pushed the Negro Leagues into prominence. Only then, after understanding the obstacles the players endured and overcame simply to play baseball, are you granted entrance onto the field of All-Stars.
"In many respects, it's the same thing these men went through to earn the right to play in the Major Leagues," Kendrick said. "We segregate you from the field, then, when you learn the story, it leads you to the field. Essentially, you're being rewarded to be on the field with some of greatest players in history.
"You get a triumphant feeling -- 'Now, I can walk on the field with these giants of the game.' It's highly effective and visually stunning."
And a great reason for a detour on your way to Kauffman Stadium.