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How a popular video game is introducing young fans to Negro Leagues legends

MLB The Show 23 is telling the stories of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and other Negro Leagues stars, in collaboration with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
/ Source: TODAY

Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Buck O'Neil: They are among the baseball legends whose time in the Negro Leagues is being spotlighted in a new and innovative way.

The latest edition of Sony's video game MLB The Show is sharing the triumphant stories of those players and other Negro Leagues stars for the first time in the franchise's 17-year existence.

The feature in MLB The Show 23, released in late March, has two parts: a storyline mode, in which gamers can watch short narrative videos about the eight Negro Leagues players included, and a gameplay mode, which focuses on important moments in the Negro Leagues stars' careers.

The eight Negro Leagues players in the game are Robinson, Paige, O'Neil, Rube Foster, Hilton Smith, Hank Thompson, John Donaldson and Martin Dihigo. New players will be added in future editions of the game.

Sony collaborated with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, on the feature. Sony's Ramone Russell spearheaded its development and tells in a statement that the Negro Leagues are “an important part of baseball and Black history, but, most importantly, they are a part of American history.”

“We always wanted to include the Negro Leagues in MLB The Show but figuring out the correct way to do it has always been the roadblock,” he says.

“It was important that this be a celebration of amazing athletes, in addition to telling their stories of triumph over adversity and using our platform to spotlight these players’ achievements,” he says.

Jackie Robinson in MLB The Show 23
Jackie Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues before making history with the Brooklyn Dodgers.Sony Interactive Entertainment

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the narrator of the videos, tells the video game has already had an impact with a new generation of baseball fans.

"We've reached more young people and young adults through this platform than in the history of this museum, and we've been doing this for 33 years," Kendrick says. "It ain't even close."

He says a dad messaged him on social media to share how his son is loving the stories about the players as much as he's enjoying the gameplay. The dad said he went to help his son with the game, but when he opened his son's room door, "his son is sitting, intently listening to me tell the story," Kendrick recalls.

"He said he didn't want to interrupt that moment, so he just quietly backed out of the room and left his son to hang out with me and hear the stories. That's what we hoped would happen," Kendrick adds.

“There’s this fundamental belief that kids don’t care about history,” he says. “They care, but it becomes really important on how that history is presented."

The history taught in the game includes Robinson wearing No. 5 and playing as a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, his Negro Leagues team before he desegregated Major League Baseball and joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. (MLB The Show 23 was released less than a month before Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, marking the 76th anniversary of his MLB debut.)

Kendrick says Robinson's jersey number isn’t the most unknown fact he shares in the videos.

He says Paige, a pitcher, once called in the outfield, told the infielders to sit down and proceeded to strike out the next three batters on nine straight pitches.

Kids who play the game are "blown away by the swagger of Satchel," Kendrick says. "That persona fits in beautifully in today’s society. They sit there and marvel at the audacity that he would do that, but they also marvel at his ability to actually get it done."

Leroy “Satchel” Paige
Satchel Paige, regarded as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, is the subject of many legendary tales.Sony Interactive Entertainment

Russell and Kendrick say they worked together with the families of the deceased players to gather archival footage and use it to create digital versions of the players and the stadiums.

That authenticity is felt throughout the game. For example, Paige named his pitches, so when users play as him, they don't select a fastball or curveball. Their options are the midnight creeper, the bat dodger, or some of his other famous pitches.

"So some kid from now, years later, because they played this game as Satchel Paige, they're likely to start naming their pitches too," Kendrick says. "That's why a platform like this is so significant. Kids are learning, and they're not only learning, but they're embracing what this history represents.

"That's exactly what we had hoped would happen with this project: A generation of young people are falling in love with the Negro Leagues."

MLB The Show 23 is available for PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch consoles.