By Kevin Collison
It started as a million-dollar year for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum until Covid-19 hit in March.
The pandemic forced the cancellation of several events planned this year to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Negro Leagues and raise money for its museum in the 18th & Vine Historic District.
But today, the NLBM is rolling out a “Wrapped with Heart” celebration of its favorite son, the late Buck O’Neil, and asking all of Kansas City to virtually ‘tip our cap’ to the legend who would have been celebrating his 109th birthday.
A streetcar wrapped to resemble O’Neil’s Monarchs jersey will debut at Union Station today along with a RideKC bus done up like the barn-storming buses Negro League players rode from town-to-town and a fleet of NLBM bicycles.
“We’re just ecstatic to work with RideKC and its family of transit companies to honor Buck and to contribute to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro Leagues,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the NLBM.
“Typically, we would have had a Buck O’Neil birthday party but with Covid, we couldn’t do that. To have this celebration is special to the museum and it will be a great reminder for people who’ll see this beautifully decorated streetcar.”
Kendrick said the year started out with a “tremendous high” when Major League Baseball and its players contributed $1 million to the museum. But then “tremendous lows” arrived with Covid.
“We had to cancel virtually every event for the public,” he said.
Those included popular fundraising events such as the annual Jazz and Jackie (Robinson) celebration, the Hall of Game and the Hotdog Festival. A planned gala that would have been held this weekend to celebrate the centennial also was scratched.
But along the way, a virtual “Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues” campaign was launched in late June.
An introductory video that included Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter as well as celebrities including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson went viral.
Hendrick said the ongoing Tip Your Cap campaign has raised more than $200,000 this year and attracted up to 1,500 new donors to the Negro League Museum.
“Covid has affected fundraising, but I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep this celebration alive and relevant even without these events,” he said.
The Wrapped with Heart event at 11 a.m. will feature Hendrick as well as Jackson County Executive Frank White, Mayor Quinton Lucas, Robbie Makinen, CEO of the KC Area Transportation Authority and Tom Gerend, executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority.
The invitation-only event will be live streamed here.
The Wrapped with Heart Campaign contributors include the Chamber’s Centurions Leadership Program, KC Streetcar Constructors, Pro Athlete, Lewis & Rice, JE Dunn, Port KC, HNTB, BMG Advisors, Global Prairie and Negro League supporters near and far.
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