CINCINNATI -- When they found out that Major League Baseball sought to bring the annual Civil Rights Game to a big league city, the Reds and Cincinnati wanted in. Correction, they really wanted in. Getting MLB to sign on was a combined complete-game effort. "Cincinnati is such a landmark when it comes to Major League Baseball," Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory said Thursday during an announcement the game was coming to town. "Of course, this is the oldest professional baseball team in the country. We had the first night game in 1935. We are honored in playing a major part in the commemoration of this game."
The third Civil Rights game will be played between the Reds and White Sox on June 20, 2009, at Great American Ball Park. Part of a two-year agreement, the game will be played at Cincinnati in '10 as well. At the centerpiece of the presentation to bring the game to town, the city highlighted the presence of the National Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center located adjacent to the ballpark. The museum hosted MLB officials for a tour during the city's efforts to get the game. "For many African Americans, this was the first point of freedom in the days of slavery," Mallory said. "We talk about that all the time, but I'm not sure people really understand the magnitude of the fact that there were people in this city that were committed to bringing people out of slavery." Cincinnati has also had its share of controversy in race relations. A race riot broke out in 2001 sparked by the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old African-American man by the police. That came after a long series of incidents involving the police and minorities that gave the city a less-than-savory reputation. African-American groups had once called for entertainers to boycott playing events in town. Improvement has been made in race relations over the past few years, including the city's hosting of the annual NAACP National Convention this summer. "We don't have a problem in this city in acknowledging the past, but also looking toward the future to ensure we are doing all that we can to make sure people are enjoying the civil rights they all deserve," said Mallory, who is African American. Executive vice president of operations Jimmie Lee Solomon led Major League Baseball's tour of Cincinnati and considered other cities to host the Civil Rights Game. "It was after 20 minutes of meeting with the Reds, and Reds Owner/CEO Bob's family] the Castellinis and [general manager] Walt Jocketty and [manager] Dusty [Baker] -- we knew then what we were going to do," Solomon said. "We made our decision before we even got back on the plane. We couldn't tell them that, of course. They had really shown us that the city was really interested in doing this. The Freedom Center also showed us on the tour they took how relevant the city was in the entire civil rights movement. The stories that I heard during that hour-and-a-half tour of that facility let me know that this story had to be told. This city had to be highlighted." The effort to promote the Civil Rights Game was made even before Thursday's press conference. "We know Cincinnati will host an amazing event for our guests around the country," Castellini said. "We have already begun collaborating with area attractions and hotels about making this a memorable weekend worthy of this most prestigious honor."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.