YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Can you imagine being one of the very best in baseball and having to walk through the back gate every time you stepped onto the field?
This was the battle that thousands of black Americans had to face as they struggled to make names for themselves in the baseball arena and life in general.
As part of Black History Month, Jennifer Brindisi has the story of a Youngstown native who was one of those who fought for his rights to play ball.
James Cobbin grew up in Youngstown in a time of heavy discrimination, but he loved baseball and he pursued it with a passion, despite the racial challenges.
Not only did Cobbin make it in baseball, playing with the Negro Baseball League for two years, he ended up becoming an entrepreneur and making it in business as well, bringing that success all the way back to his hometown.
It was a time of great talent, a great love of baseball and great racial disparity and James Cobbin was in the middle of it all.
As a young boy, he lit up when he got to hold a bat in his hands. "My total passion was baseball. In fact, when I was younger and it rained i cried; I couldn't play baseball that day," Cobbin said.
At 15 he played semi-pro ball under an assumed name and after two years at Allen University in South Carolina he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
His contract stated that baseball was serious and it was; serious discrimination. Nothing in the contract was written for him; not the hotel rooms, not the food, not the camaraderie.
"Everybody else came in the front gate. We came in the back gate. As we had spring training, and as we started to have batting practice and so forth; when I came up to bat, everything got quiet," Cobbin said.
He took his frustration out on the ball. So when the Black Yankees came calling, James accepted and would start his career with the Negro Baseball League.
He played from 1956 to 1958 with the Black Yankees and the Indianapolis Clowns. He was once called "The Thief" for stealing so many bases.
"The white major league had the money, but the Negro league had the talent. All of the guys who came from the Negro league to the other major leagues were stars when they arrived; Satchel Page, Larry Doby, Campanella, you could just go on and name them all," Cobbin said.
The memories from that time are indescribable. The crowds were huge and the skills that would change baseball forever were perfected in the Negro League.
"The bunt, the hit-and-run, the double steal, all those things happened in Negro League Baseball. They invented all of those things including the lights at night," Cobbin said.
After being drafted by the Army, Cobbin continued his baseball career with the European league and celebrated a World Series win.
After his baseball career, Cobbin came home and created a booming business. In 1978 he created a transportation company, CCS Trans, Inc.
Cobbin, a true entrepreneur, said he got lucky. But if you know Jim Cobbin, you know it had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with passion and perseverance; succeeding in spite of segregation and moving forward minus the color lines.
Youngstown is the headquarters of the Negro League Baseball Foundation, of which Cobbin is Vice President. Jim has an incredible memorabilia store at his building on Fifth Avenue called the W.J. Cobbin Office Tower.
There are only 61 surviving members of the Negro Baseball League.