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Bill Greason to throw out first pitch at Rickwood Field game at age 99

Rev. Bill Greason, the oldest living Negro League player and a former member of the Birmingham Black Barons and St. Louis Cardinals, will throw out the first pitch before tonight’s MLB game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

Greason, born in Atlanta in 1924, grew up across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. He enlisted in the Marines as a teenager and fought at Iwo Jima, bearing witness to one of the most famous scenes in American history. Greason returned to baseball after World War II ended, spending three years as one of the Black Barons’ premier pitchers, earning a Negro League All-Star selection in 1949.

While in Birmingham, Greason helped mentor a young Willie Mays.

“Greason, as I’ve always called him, seemed to understand me pretty well. He was always careful to help me out when he could without calling attention to what he was doing,” Mays wrote in 2015. “He gave me respect and in turn helped me grow up.”

RELATED: Alabama’s Bill Greason, oldest living Negro League player, has stories

“We could have competed with any team, any major league team,” Greason said of the Black Barons. “We had people like Willie Mays, Artie Wilson, Bob Thurman. We could have played in the league, but at that time there was not any integration until Jackie (Robinson) went up.

“I pitched against [Robinson’s] all-star team after the season in Montgomery and pitched a 1-hitter against him, Larry Doby and (Roy) Campanella. They had all those guys. We were pretty good.”

In 1953, Greason was signed by the Cardinals, becoming St. Louis’ second African-American player and first black pitcher. He would play one season for the team before spending the next five years in the Cardinals’ minor league system.

Greason retired from professional baseball in 1959 and settled down in Birmingham and attended 16th Street Baptist Church. The 1963 bombing shook Greason to his core and inspired him to join the ministry and begin preaching. Greason became pastor at Berney Points’ Bethel Baptist Church in 1971.

The reverend, who is three months away from his 100th birthday, was recently honored on the floor of the U.S. House. He continues to preach at Bethel, where he will host a fireside chat with Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) in the leadup to today’s game.

Charles Vaughan is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News. 

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