Wareham Community Comes Together to Honor Joe Campinha
Sunday evening on Spillane Field, the Wareham Gatemen recognized the first Cape Verdean professional baseball catcher, Joe Campinha, for being one of the pioneers who helped break the color barrier in baseball's minor leagues.
"Yes, he was a very important part of that struggle," said Campinha's daughter, Dr. Josepha Campinha-Bacote, President and Founder of Transcultural C.A.R.E. Associates. Insightfully, Campinha-Bacote talked about the inequities of American society, back then and continuing to today. "The struggles are similar," she said.
When asked to describe her dad, she said, "He never missed one day of work. He pushed us all hard and insisted, say if I got an A on my report card, he'd say, 'Next time make that A an A+.'"
She said her dad was not a very affectionate person, but he instilled in her the qualities needed to work hard to go further to earn her Ph.D. "I have a lot of his persona in the way I do things," she said with a laugh.
Campinha-Bacote's half-brother, Clayton "Lucky" Campini, said his different last name often caused confusion among the other Campinhas.
"I couldn't for the life of me figure out why some of us were Campinha and others were Campini. Thanks to Karl Sabourin digging in old newspaper stories and talking with research experts, I finally got my answer," he said of the man responsible for researching Campinha's life and career and bringing about this special night in which he was honored by his hometown Wareham Gatemen.
Joe Campinha was married twice. When he made the minor leagues, he changed his name from Campinho to Campini to fit in better during a time of racial separation in the country.
"I'm just overwhelmed by all this," Campini said. "My father was a great man in life, as well. After baseball, he went on to supervise the construction of Interstate 495 from Cape Cod all the way up to the New Hampshire line."
As part of the ceremony honoring Joe Campinha on Sunday, a citation was presented to honor the hometown hero.
“I am honored to have filed an official citation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizing the achievements of Mr. Joe Campinha who, according to Dr. Layton Revel with the Center for Negro League Baseball Research, in 1949 became one of the first professional athletes to break the color barrier,” said Dean of the Massachusetts Senate Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton).
“Mr. Campinha was a true pioneer who demonstrated incredible bravery and perseverance in overcoming racial discrimination to pursue the game he loved," Pacheco added. "I am pleased his family has been able to celebrate his contributions to the eradication of unfair and unjust racial barriers in this country, and I thank them and the Wareham Gatemen for giving me the opportunity to play a part in providing Mr. Campinha the recognition he deserves.”
Sabourin, who is credited for finding all the scattered pieces of the Campinho-Campini puzzle, was overwhelmed by what his research project had done for a family and the entire Cape Verdean community.
"It's tough to put into words. I had no idea that my digging into this important baseball player's past would lead to this. The whole experience is very humbling," said Sabourin, whose original article was written for Wicked Local Wareham. He said ever since he was a boy, his love for the game had a special place in his heart.
"Because of the game of baseball, it finally all came together," he said.
Dr. Campinha-Bacote echoed her half-brother's sentiments.
"I have to give it all to Karl Sabourin," she said. "If he didn't do the background research, we never would have known so much about my father's past."
She also noted that in addition to honoring her father, there is a lesson to be learned from Sunday's ceremony.
"I see racial injustices in every area," she said. "If there's anything we can take away from this, it is we have to continually keep pushing hard to give a voice to the voiceless."