RALEIGH, N.C. — One of the greatest times in any man’s life are the moments spent doing what he loves. For one year, during one season, one gentleman got to do exactly that with one of his closest friends.
Over a period of months, Willie Sellars, 71, told Spectrum News 1 about his playing days in the Negro Leagues during the late 1960’s from his home in Reidsville.
For one season in 1969, he and his buddy, Henry Mullins played for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Sellars says the road to his professional life on the diamond began with a tryout in 1969. He and Mullins drove to Danville, Virginia to show their stuff for the owner of the Indianapolis Clowns, Ed Hamman.
“He [Hamman] asked us to meet him and said he would look us over,” Sellars says.
They showed up with their best stuff. In an exhibition game, Sellars says he pitched a shutout on the mound and Mullins hit an inside the park home run.
“They signed us that night and let two other ball players go to make room for us,” Sellars says.
Life in their field of dreams began that day.
The Indianapolis Clowns were the focus of the movieThe Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. Famous actors Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones displayed some of the antics of the players on the team. To give you an idea what it was like to sit in the dugout wearing a Clowns jersey, Sellars calls it, "baseball’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters."
It was a way for them to get out of North Carolina.
Mullins and Sellars are the same age. Mullins told Spectrum News 1 the game has always been a part of their lives.
“It was just something we grew up doing and enjoyed doing it," Mullins says.
By this point in the decade, the Negro Leagues began to disassemble. Teams were breaking up as more Black players were accepted by farm teams in the major leagues.
There aren’t many photos from this point in history either. Dr. Layton Revel, who runs the Center for Negro League Baseball Research, says not much was documented by 1969. However, that doesn’t make the experience any less real for the two.
"We hadn’t ever really been nowhere. The furthest I had ever probably been was Raleigh at that time,” Sellars says.
Their last game with the Clowns was at Comiskey Park in 1969. It’s the old ballpark where the White Sox played on the Southside of Chicago until 1990.
Sellars says on that day, he struck out 16 batters with a torn rotator cuff, and told Mullins they were riding the bus home to Reidsville the next day.
Both have been living in the area ever since.
Each says they will cherish every inning of these memories.
“We had a lot of opportunity to see the world just by playing on that team,” Sellars says.
They still love the game. One cold, windy morning in early February, the pair walked out to Sellars' backyard for a little pitch and catch. Mind you, each of these man are in their 70s, casually tossing a ball back and forth, in a wintry high of 20 degrees.
They reach into their gloves with a young man’s enthusiasm. The only difference now are the wrinkles and the way Father Time is gradually slowing them down.