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Civil Rights Game set to celebrate diversity

Civil Rights Game set to celebrate diversity

CINCINNATI -- The Gillette Civil Rights Game is much more than just a baseball game, and that will be evident with daylong activities leading up to Saturday night's Cardinals-Reds clash.

Beyond the nine innings of baseball, Saturday's events will be full of history, discussion and reflection on one of the larger issues in American society.

Prior to Saturday's first pitch, the day will begin with the annual Beacon Awards at noon ET, continue through the afternoon with the MLB Wanna Play event for children throughout, and culminate with pregame ceremonies that will honor African-American baseball pioneers -- with players wearing throwback uniforms from 1947, the year Jackie Robinson made his historic debut, and fans receiving commemorative jerseys honoring Chuck Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Reds.

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For the Reds and Cincinnati, it's another chance to show that Major League Baseball's efforts to promote civil-rights awareness has their support.

"Cincinnati has a rich history, a rich baseball history, and has played a significant role in our country's journey toward civil equality," Reds president and CEO Bob Castellini said as he welcomed attendees to Friday's roundtable discussion at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The roundtable, which featured Cincinnati baseball icons Joe Morgan and Barry Larkin and included an appearance by Hank Aaron, was the first event of the weekend, a 90-minute discussion about civil rights held at a museum honoring one of the key elements of the evolution of African-American rights.

When the events start up again Saturday, children will be a big part of the theme. Free and open to the public, the MLB Wanna Play event will be held at Fountain Square from 12-7 p.m., with Reds players Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto conducting a baseball skills demonstration from 2-2:30 p.m. and participating in a Q&A from 2:30-3 p.m. that will also feature MLB Network analysts Harold Reynolds and Larkin, as well as Cardinals infielder Felipe Lopez, teen saxophonist BK Jackson and Capt. Josh Holden, a West Point graduate and former Reds Minor Leaguer.

At 5 p.m., more than 2,000 children, coaches and community partners will take part in the Delta Youth Baseball March from Fountain Square to Great American Ball Park -- a highlight of last year's event for Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations.

"One of the great things about Cincinnati is the close proximity of the facilities we can use," said Solomon. "Having Fountain Square right there and the kids marching down was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen."

At noon, three icons will be honored in what should be moving presentations during the sold-out MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon at the Duke Energy Center.

The Beacon Awards recognize individuals "whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement." The MLB Beacon of Life Award will be presented to Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Mays will get his award from the Rev. Bill Greason, who was a teammate of Mays' in 1948 with Birmingham of the Negro Leagues.

The MLB Beacon of Change Award will go to tennis legend and equality pioneer Billie Jean King, who spent her career trying to put women's sports on the same level as men's athletics. Presenting King's award will be boxer Laila Ali, the daughter of legendary boxing great Muhammad Ali.

Entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte will receive the MLB Beacon of Hope Award from congressman John Lewis, who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

The luncheon will be hosted by ESPN anchor Sage Steele with former Atlanta mayor, congressman and United States ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young scheduled to deliver the keynote address. Grammy Award winning singer Roberta Flack will be performing.

There will also be a special tribute to the members of the sit-in at the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. Proceeds from the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon will benefit the Reds Community Fund, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Major League Baseball Urban Youth Foundation.

Other events scheduled for the weekend:

• Author James Hirsch will have a presentation highlighting the career of Mays from 4-6 p.m. at the Reds Hall of Fame. Hirsch wrote the bestselling biography, "Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend."

• Harmon, the Reds' first African-American player, and author Marty Pieratt will sign copies of a new book called "First Black Red," from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Hall of Fame.

• Before the start of the Reds-Cardinals game, fans will get to see the three Beacon Award winners be recognized. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and Flack will sing John Lennon's "Imagine." Recording artist Jeffrey Osborne will perform the National Anthem, and the U.S. Army Golden Knights will perform an aerial demonstration.

• From 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. before Sunday afternoon's series finale, fans who go to the Reds Hall of Fame can meet with veterans of the Negro Leagues and get autographs. • And for the 1:10 p.m. game, the first 10,000 kids, 14 and younger, will receive a Phillips kids mesh jersey.

If last year is any barometer, the players will be on the top step of their respective dugouts watching the festivities. That's exactly what the Reds and White Sox did for the 2009 Civil Rights Game.

"I think anything that reminds people of history -- and especially critical history -- is very healthy," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A lot of guys, they grow up now and I asked them if they knew who Maury Wills was. No, they didn't. Anything you can do to remind them not to make light of it, but the Civil Rights Game is a real good message to send from Major League Baseball."

John Schlegel and Mark Sheldon are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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