By Madeline Orton
As baseball’s biggest match-up of the year approaches, Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick pays homage to a man who helped change the game forever, Satchel Paige, in the professional world premiere of Kansas City Swing.
Robert Karma Robinson plays Paige in the show. “He was arguably one of the best pitchers of his era or any era. At the time, he was sort of the king of the Negro League — running his own team, being shipped to other teams just to play a game or a few innings,” he explained.
“It’s a chapter in history that, like a lot of chapters, is not written in the history books, so we have to do it ourselves,” said Ricardo Khan, the play’s director and co-playwright.
Khan has experience in this arena. In 1978, he co-founded Crossroads Theatre Company, which is committed to creating and producing works that examine the African-American experience. The company was awarded the Tony for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1999.
“If you’re at Crossroads, and our name suggests [it], Crossroads is the coming together of many different backgrounds to experience one thing,” Khan said.
For the next few weeks, that’s the story of Satchel Paige. Khan and co-playwright Trey Ellis worked closely with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City to accurately depict baseball in 1947, the year the play takes place. Wool uniforms with button flies, team logos from the time and Paige’s pitching form and style of speaking are infused into the show for authenticity.
“As you know,” said Ellis, “baseball fans are crazily particular about every specific, so…I would hear in my head as I was writing something, ‘This better be right.’”
Audience member Robert Scott would know. Scott pitched for the Black Yankees from 1946-1950, and seeing this story told is especially important to him.
“It’s wonderful because people need to know,” said Scott. “You need to know about history. History makes you be a better person.”
And for the production team of Kansas City Swing, it’s an honor to share this history the best way they know how — through theater.
“I feel like with all stories of legendary heroes like this that go unsung for as long as he has, it’s about time I guess, and it’s just awesome to be the one to do it,” Robinson said.
“When things change, we forget how things used to be, and this really speaks to the world today and how we got there,” said Ellis.
Baseball fans tuning in for the World Series may be reminded of the role Paige played in 1948, his first season in the Major Leagues, helping the Cleveland Indians bring home the pennant.
Kansas City Swing runs through Oct. 27.