For any San Antonian who remembers Electric Park, Saturday offers a chance to do a deep dive into local baseball history.
The San Antonio Missions Minor League Baseball team will join with the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) for a Juneteenth celebration honoring Negro League baseball in South Texas during the Missions’ game against the Amarillo Sod Poodles.
Game attendees will see Missions players dressed in special replica uniforms honoring the pennant-winning 1908 San Antonio Black Broncos team, witness living Negro Leaguers recognized on the pitching mound during the game, take in SAAACAM’s Invisible Diamond pop-up exhibit on the history of the 1900s-era alternate baseball league in South Texas and have a chance to bid on a replica jersey to take home.
SAAACAM has also partnered with the Texas Kidney Foundation for a special fundraising event beginning at 7 p.m. For a VIP ticket price of $75, attendees will have a chance to meet Negro League players in person, browse collectibles from the era, graze an all-you-can-eat food and drink buffet and enjoy pavilion seating during the game.
The Spurs of yesteryear
SAAACAM historian Cristal Mendez said the Broncos played night games at Electric Park on North San Pedro Avenue, now occupied by the VIA Metro Center, when electricity was still a rare and fascinating curiosity. Among other attractions, the park featured a roller coaster and circle swing that lit up at night.
Mendez said attendance for games was robust, and people living nearby would sit on their rooftops to watch.
“I get the sense that people were very excited about this team,” she said, on par with how the city regards the San Antonio Spurs today, as champions that represented the city.
South Texas baseball historian Greg Garrett researched the Black Broncos and said he believes they were San Antonio’s first Negro League affiliate, owned by the prominent Bellinger family. Other city teams included the San Antonio Black Aces and the Kerrville All-Stars, but Garrett said baseball at the time was a widespread phenomenon, with teams popping up in rural and urban communities throughout South Texas and the nation.
Garrett said that while the Negro Leagues have received due attention nationally, including having players’ statistics finally included in official Major League Baseball records, what has received less recognition is “how embedded Black baseball was in every single community in the country. … In every single city and every single township that America had, if there was white baseball, then 95% of the time, there was Black baseball and there was Mexican baseball.”
A sure 30-game winner
One player to be honored by SAAACAM is Seguin native Joseph “Smokey Joe” Williams, who played for several Negro League teams from 1907-1932 and was a key member of the 1908 Black Broncos champion team.
Nicknames were a common marketing tool in that era, and Williams was first known as “Cyclone Joe” for his uncommon speed and smooth throwing motion. He later went by the “Smokey Joe” moniker while with the Homestead Grays of industrial Pittsburgh.
Lauded by white baseball star Ty Cobb as “a sure 30-game winner in the major leagues,” Williams never had the chance to play in the Majors but won exhibition games against five white Hall of Fame pitchers during his career, and reportedly threw harder than Satchel Paige. Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Williams will be featured in the Invisible Diamond exhibit, and the replica jersey is meant to honor him — but will feature number 42 after Jackie Robinson, in part because no photographs of William in his Black Broncos jersey are known to exist.
“There’s not a whole lot of information on the San Antonio Black Broncos, which is unfortunate because I think they really kicked off this long tradition of sports here in San Antonio,” Mendez said.
Funds raised by the VIP event will benefit the Texas Kidney Foundation, with tickets available here. Regular San Antonio Missions game tickets at prices from $10 to $30 are available on the team website.