Seven decades ago, Portland baseball fans piled into the long-since-demolished Vaughn Street Park for what would turn out to be a fleeting experience: a contest between two teams made up entirely of Black players.
In 1946, entrepreneur Abe Saperstein teamed with Jesse Owens—the famed Olympian who won four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Berlin games in front of a fuming Adolf Hitler—to create the West Coast Negro Baseball Association, one of a handful of leagues across the U.S. to give Black players a chance to show off their skills while the majors were still segregated.
It put six teams on the field in California and the Northwest, including the Portland Rosebuds, a squad that included Negro League vets Bob Bissant and Alphonse Dunn. Owens owned the team and performed running exhibitions between doubleheaders.
Despite having the imprimatur of a world-famous athlete, the league lasted only three months. The Rosebuds ended with a 7-8 record.
Seven-five years later, the Portland Rosebuds are coming back. The team is one of two new squads being added to the Wild West League, created last year by the owners of the Lents-based collegiate wood bat club the Portland Pickles to keep live baseball happening during the pandemic.
Co-owner Alan Miller learned of the original Rosebuds a few years ago through Rob Neyer, a baseball historian and commissioner of the West Coast League. The plan, at first, was to have the Pickles play as the Rosebuds for a single game during the 2020 season.
"But as we started to dig into it," says Miller, "we decided, 'Let's create an identity and pay tribute to that team.'"
Information on the original Rosebuds is scarce. Press coverage was rare, and none of the original Rosebuds moved on to the majors. Leading up to the new Rosebuds' first game on June 21, Miller and Neyer are continuing to dig for more historical records. But Miller finds a lot of inspiration in the fact that the team, and the WCNBA itself, could exist at all, even if for a brief flash of time.
"When you start to think about the challenges of putting on a normal baseball game," he says, "the fact that they actually pulled this off when they did is incredible."
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