A little more than 24 hours before they’d run on to the field of T-Mobile Park in those crisp black-and-white uniforms, representing players who helped them reach this level, and do so on a day, Juneteenth, that became a federal holiday this week, Shed Long Jr., J.P. Crawford, Taylor Trammell, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn posed for photos. They joked and mugged for the camera while admiring how great the uniforms looked on each other.
But beyond the appearance, there was a sense of confidence and comfort, a feeling of empowerment and belonging that emanated from them … and this was just a photo shoot.
And they knew it would only grow stronger Saturday evening when they took the field in the colors of the Seattle Steelheads, the Negro leagues team that played for one season in 1946 at Sick’s Stadium.
“I can’t wait to put that uniform on for real,” Long said a few hours before the first pitch Saturday evening. “It’s an honor to wear them and to honor those that paved the way for us.”
“I think we should make wearing these uniforms a more regular thing for what they stand for,” Crawford said. “Not just us but everyone in baseball.”
It’s an idea with merit.
“Those people have paved the way for me along with other guys in baseball,” Trammell said. “I feel so honored.”
That they get to wear those uniforms on Juneteenth makes it even more meaningful.
“You get chills thinking about it,” Trammell said. “It should’ve been a national holiday for a while now. We all have this date marked on our calendars.”
To Trammell, it’s an opportunity for others to learn more about why the holiday is celebrated and what it means to the Black community.
For Long, he’s always known the meaning. Born and raised in Alabama, the holiday has significance based on personal experiences of growing up in the South.
“I’ve been celebrating Juneteenth all my life,” Long said. “It’s just part of the history down there. There is still racism at its peak down there. People are just more aware of it just because of the things that are still going on down there and what it represents.”
As much of Seattle and neighboring communities, the Mariners decided to pay tribute to the day that has been celebrated for 155 years, recognizing the emancipation of those enslaved in the United States. Besides the players wearing the Steelheads uniforms, Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
There was a special pregame performance by Ayron Jones, a rising Seattle artist whose single “Mercy” — a track about inequality and social injustice — is climbing the charts.
Besides singing the national anthem, Shaina Shepherd also sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black national anthem.
Over the past three seasons, the Mariners have had more African American players on their 40-man and active roster than any other team in baseball. And over the past year and a half, they’ve grown increasingly vocal about social and racial injustice in society.
“It’s cool and I love the idea,” Crawford said of Juneteenth. “But we still have a bunch of work to do in all of our communities, everybody around the world. It’s still an issue. We’re still talking about our issues as a whole. This is a little step. It’s better than nothing, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
As for some opposition and resistance to making Juneteenth a holiday, the players weren’t surprised.
“If anybody’s against it, those other people need to look in the mirror and ask themselves why they think that way,” Long said.
Crawford tried to remain philosophical and not pessimistic.
“That’s the problem with this world,” he said. “We’ve still got people who really don’t see the humanity aspect of life, and it sucks. We’re all human. We all bleed the same. We are really one race. The fact that some people can’t see that, man, it’s sad though. It’s 2021 and we’re still dealing with it.”
Dunn has shoulder strain
After reviewing an MRI taken Thursday afternoon, the Mariners medical staff diagnosed right-hander Justin Dunn with a right shoulder strain, according to manager Scott Servais.
“The last I heard is that he is probably going to be shut down to no throwing for about two weeks,” he said. “We just want to let that calm down. He’ll get on some exercises, some strengthening stuff there with the shoulder. After that, he’ll get reevaluated. Hopefully, that calms down a little bit, and he could start building up arm strength and going from there.”
Dunn exited his start Thursday with shoulder discomfort after two innings. It was just his second start after a stint on the 10-day injured list due to similar discomfort.
Because the issues reappeared after the 10-day hiatus, the Mariners already had anticipated that this current IL stint would be lengthier even if it was just precautionary. They plan to roll with a five-man rotation through the All-Star break, which comes July 11, and reassess the situation for the second half of the season.
“He’s going to be out for a little while,” Servais said. “But I don’t think there’s any need for any surgical things, or anything like that at all. He just strained a muscle in his right shoulder.”