The annual late-spring practice of "barnstorming" will receive a significant boost in prestige and importance in March of 2007. That's when the Cards and Indians will play in the inaugural Civil Rights Game, an exhibition at Memphis AutoZone Park that will celebrate the civil rights movement as well as attempt to raise the profile of baseball among African-Americans.
The Cardinals announced earlier this fall that they would play their Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, at AutoZone Park on March 30. But it turns out that will be merely a warm-up to the main event on March 31.
"It's very important to us, the St. Louis Cardinals, and we're very honored and pleased to be chosen along with the Cleveland Indians to participate in this game," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "It's in the home of our Triple-A affiliate and also the home of the national Civil Rights Museum."
The Museum will be one of the financial beneficiaries of the game, and it will also host players from the two teams in tours during the day on March 31. The game will cap a day of celebration and remembrance in Memphis, one of the central cities of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
It's a perfect fit for the Memphis Redbirds to host the game. The team is a not-for-profit corporation. The Redbirds make great efforts to be involved in the betterment of their city, and they jumped at the chance to host the game.
"This was a natural extension," said Memphis team president Dave Chase. "We're beginning our 10th season, and this is a great way for us to move into our next decade. It really underscores our commitment to what goes on in the city."
The two Major League clubs were naturals for the matchup as well.
Once Memphis was chosen to host the game -- it's the city where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, as well as the site of the NCRM -- St. Louis was almost automatic. As for an American League foe, who better than Cleveland? The Indians were the first AL team to integrate, signing Larry Doby in 1947, and the first Major League team with an African-American manager (Frank Robinson, hired in 1975).
And while the Cardinals weren't the first to integrate in the NL, several Cardinals were among the more prominent activist players in the 1960s.
"The Cardinals were at the forefront in the 1960s of a lot of social change, with people like Bill White and Bob Gibson and Curt Flood," said Billy Sample, who emceed the announcement at baseball's Winter Meetings. "Initially it was to integrate the Spring Training facilities, and they moved on from there."
In addition to recognizing the heroism of the movement in the 1960s, the game has an additional goal. With participation in baseball declining among African-Americans, there is a hope that this event will begin to help turn around that trend.
"We just hope that this special event will in some way -- hopefully a large way, but even a small way -- raise the awareness of this great need to try and attract the great African-American athletes back to our game," Jocketty said. "It's very important. It's something that I think every organization is very aware of. We're happy that we're going to be part of this inaugural game."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.