A Passion for the Past Cubs' DeShields Understands Importance of Keeping History of Negro Leagues Alive by How He Goes about His Work on, off Field

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Byline: Bruce Miles Daily Herald Sports Writer

MESA, Ariz. -Delino DeShields wears his baseball pants high, around his knees, revealing an ample amount of Cubby blue in his socks.

A fashion statement? Hardly.

A social statement? Getting closer. The veteran second baseman cavorts about the ballfield with an old-time look as a tribute to the men who played in the old Negro Leagues, the haven for African- American ballplayers in the days before "organized baseball" became integrated.

DeShields remembers when he went retro.

"Ninety-one," he said, referring to his 1991 season with the Montreal Expos. "I just figured I would never get to meet a lot of those guys and tell them thank you personally. I just said hopefully they'll see me and say, 'Hey, that guy right there, he might know something.' "

In an age when most baseball players would flunk a course in the history of their sport, the 33-year-old DeShields is a veritable traveling professor.

In addition to Montreal, DeShields has brought his love of Negro League heritage - and baseball history in general - to Los Angeles, St. Louis, Baltimore and Chicago.

Interestingly, his studies didn't begin until after he finished high school in his hometown of Seaford, Del.

"It hit me when I got out of high school," DeShields recalled. "There wasn't really a lot of African-American history. After school, when I got into pro ball, I started reading. I started collecting more and more books. It just turned into an avalanche.

"This should be something that's taught in school. Jackie Robinson, that whole thing, that should be something that's in the history books, as part of American history.

"You have to know and respect where you come from. If you don't know those things, you'll never know where you're from. Being an African-American, that's where I came from. If those guys didn't go through the things they went through, I wouldn't be here, as a player. So it's really important."

In addition to his books, DeShields owns "tons of jerseys" from the Negro Leagues, including the Homestead Grays, Newark Eagles and Indianapolis Clowns.

Even though many Negro League stars have died, DeShields has made sure to visit the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, Mo. He counts among his friends Buck O'Neil, the Negro Leaguer who regularly fascinates visitors to the museum with his "walking and talking" tours. …