Trailblazing, all-Black Ontario baseball team gets the video game treatment
The 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars team can now be downloaded in MLB The Show
It's all a bit surreal for Ferguson (Fergie) Jenkins Jr., to see his father faithfully recreated in Major League Baseball's video game MLB The Show '22.
From their vivid facial features to their swift moves, the 1934 Chatham Coloured All-Stars champions, including Fergie Jenkins Sr., have been brought back to life and are ready to play ball.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) partnered with the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society and Major League Baseball (MLB) to recreate the team in the game.
The All-Stars were the first all-Black team to win a championship title in the province, breaking colour barriers in the sport.
"People at one time disregarded them as good athletes, but then they proved themselves," Jenkins Jr., 79, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "They were really a team to be reckoned with."
Jenkins Jr. was a legendary professional baseball player in his own right. He was the first Canadian inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1991, and recorded the most wins of any Black pitcher in MLB history.
But he says the legacy of Fergie Jenkins Sr. and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, after having endured ridicule and attacks on the field, is now being honoured after almost 90 years.
"They barnstormed, they got boycotted by different groups of people, supposedly thrown at with rocks and spit at and they didn't want them to play. They kind of called curfew periods, things to that nature. They wanted to protest games because all the players were players of colour," Jenkins Jr. recalled. "They were able to live through this situation and were strong enough to understand that they were going to stay together to win as an organization — as a team."
"I think it was proven that they would end up winning out. So I'm quite proud of that."
Everything needed to play as the All-Stars — including its star players, and original team logo — was created using MLB The Show's in-game creation tools.
But it's not quite as simple as choosing the Toronto Blue Jays or another active MLB team in the default menus.
A page on OLG's website includes instructions on how players can download the logo and player profiles to build the team themselves.
The Show games are co-published by MLB and Sony Interactive Entertainment, and developed by Sony's San Diego Studio. Neither Sony nor San Diego Studio are quoted in the joint OLG-MLB press release. As It Happens has reached out to both companies for comment.
While Jenkins Jr. has not yet logged into the game with its newest characters, he is looking forward to choosing other players to go up against the All-Stars.
"You've got an opportunity to pick and choose different players and then make a team out of it," he said. "But a lot of the times, if you don't come out with the right players, you're not going to beat them, because they had athletes that could play multiple positions as catchers, infielders and outfielders."
Jenkins Sr. was a star team member who played only one position in centre field. He died in 1996.
"My dad would be amazed because [of] the fact that all the technology nowadays, these games, are so real looking," Jenkins Jr. laughed. "I can't imagine my father even thinking about things that would happen nowadays with electronics."
In its press release, OLG described the tribute to the championship team as a way of giving back to Ontario.
"OLG is extremely proud to be part of this effort with our MLB partners, to shine a spotlight on historical figures in our province who broke barriers and contributed to the betterment of our communities," said its president and CRO, Duncan Hannay.
The provincial corporation also gave $25,000 to the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society for its support in creating the characters.
"There's a whole new generation of kid who are gamers and they may not have been exposed to history in other ways, but now they're being exposed to it in a whole new area of gaming," the society's curator, Samantha Meredith, told the Chatham Daily News.
The city of Chatham, Ont., has plans to pay tribute to the historic baseball team. On Saturday at the Fergie Jenkins Field, relatives and descendants of the All-Stars will play in the second Field of Honour Charity baseball game.
"Everybody kind of salutes hometown heroes, which they were," Jenkins Jr. said.
"They were athletes and fathers and sons that played in Chatham and were able to display their talent on a baseball field."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
Interview produced by Devin Nguyen.