Former players remember the glory days of Nigton Baseball

Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE
Source: KTRE

TRINITY COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Many people passing through Nigton on a hot summer day might ignore the empty field behind the old Black Cat's Bar near the town's four-way stop sign, but if you talk to long time residents they can go on for days about the games that were once played on the lot.

Nigton has deep roots in the history of post-Civil War Texas. The small community was formed by several families recently freed from slavery. Today, there are only a couple of dozen people still living in the community. Baseball started to thrive in the early 1900s in Nigton with several men starting a team and playing other teams.

"They would play teams from Groveton and Trinity and LufkinLand," Cleveland Mark said. Cleveland's grandfather played for the town in 1912. His father then played and Cleveland found his way to the team in the 1940's. He would only play a couple of years before being drafted to military service in 1950. While Cleveland was playing in Nigton, Jackie Robinson was breaking down color barriers in Major League Baseball.

"There were so many things that Jackie went through to get where he was," Cleveland said. "There was an unwritten law in baseball that said if you were black you could not play in the majors. Every guy that comes into the major leagues, they should pay tribute to Jackie Robinson."

As the years progressed, the crowds grew as teams from all over would come to Nigton on Sunday afternoons. Many of the games in the later years featured the Texas Foundry Tigers. The early Nigton teams did not have a specific name.

"Baseball was huge for this town," Cleveland said. "This used to be a social event for the black community."

Charles Mark grew up watching Cleveland, his cousin, play ball. When it was Charles' turn to play he knew it was going to be hard work.

"There was nothing to do back then so when it came to Sunday you knew where you needed to be," Calvin said. "You went to church first and then you went to the ball game."

If you needed someone in Nigton on a Sunday, your best option for finding them was to go to the ball field.

There were cars everywhere," Calvin Spencer Jr. said. "Everyone from here to Lufkin would be out here. There would be cars parked all the way down, I would say a mile or so and then all the way up this road here."

The groundwork that Robinson laid in the majors would trickle down to Nigton. Several players received college scholarships and where given tryouts with major league teams. One of those was Spencer who played for the town's team in the 1960s.

"I felt like I had a chance to go to the major league where there was a lot of the older guys, they didn't have a chance," Spencer said. "Unfortunately I never got there. I was a really fast guy back then but I was told I was not fast enough."

Charles Mark said the legacy that Robinson and the early Nigton players had carried on through the entire history of Nigton baseball. Each team knew they were influencing future generations.

"That was our main purpose to try to do that and get the rest of them interested and doing something besides just being in the streets," Charles Mark said.

But the games wouldn't last. About 25 years ago, the games stopped and the field was not maintained.

"Everybody moved out of Nigton and into Lufkin," Robert McGee said. They got jobs there and what have you."

The games left but the memories haven't. and now there is a chance this coming September the field could come back for a community game during the Nigton homecoming.

"I am happy that I get to come back and see my friends and see my home," Spencer said. "We all got our start right out here on this field and to see it in the condition that its in, so it would mean the world to me if we got the field back together and could play baseball or softball out here at the homecoming celebration."

Until that happens, the former Nigton players will continue to share the stories of when baseball was king in the tiny community of Nigton.

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