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Published February 01, 2011, 12:00 AM

Schnepf: Mudcat returns to Fargo

Watch Mudcat talk about his nickname
It was an era when most of Jim Grant’s baseball colleagues assumed he was from Mississippi just because he was black.

By: Kevin Schnepf, INFORUM

It was an era when most of Jim Grant’s baseball colleagues assumed he was from Mississippi just because he was black.

“Mississippi Mudcat,” one player called him during the Cleveland Indians’ baseball tryouts in Florida.

The nickname, minus the state, stuck. For the rest of his professional career that was about to begin at age 18 in 1954, Jim Grant would be known as “Mudcat” Grant.

And it all started in Fargo – 1,500 miles from his hometown of Lacoochee, Fla. Nearly six decades after he was a Northern League rookie of the year pitcher for the F-M Twins, Mudcat was back in Fargo Monday as the guest speaker for the Fargo American Legion baseball banquet.

“I have many passionate thoughts about Fargo, North Dakota,” Mudcat said. “It was really the first taste of freedom I ever had.”

It was an era when black baseball prospects weren’t allowed to play in Georgia, where the Cleveland Indians’ Class A minor league team was located. So, they were either sent to Canada or Cleveland’s affiliate in Fargo.

Mudcat could get a drink at a water fountain without apprehension. He could eat in a restaurant and stay in a hotel – which, back then, was a room in Fargo’s YMCA.

He frequented the old “Flame Show Bar.” An accomplished blues singer himself, Mudcat easily remembers the name of the hit record played there during the summer of 1954: “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” by “Little” Jimmy Dickens.

Mudcat also remembers the music at the numerous churches he would attend. He claims he was the laughingstock of all the Fargo ministers, wondering if “that ballplayer” – who grew up a Baptist – came by their church.

Mudcat’s mother finally explained to him why she insisted he attend different churches. “When you die and go to heaven, if you think that the only people you’re going to see are Baptist, God is going to slap you upside the head.”

Mudcat would go on to produce a 21-5 record for the F-M Twins that summer.

It all led to a 13-year career in the major leagues – his best season coming in 1965 when he won 21 games for the Minnesota Twins, including two wins in the World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now 74 and living in Los Angeles, Mudcat makes it a point to talk about his Fargo days to his 19 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

“Because everything we can find on the internet these days, they know more about Fargo than I ever dreamed I would,” Mudcat said. “But I do want to pass those Fargo memories on to my grandchildren who must look back at that time of history in their country.

“It’s one of those connections that is very usable where my family is concerned. There was no confusion in Fargo. The city was well aware of some things. The friendship and the acceptance was great.”

As many as 3,000 Fargo-Moorhead citizens would fill old Barnett Field in north Fargo to watch Mudcat – a nickname that took some time for his mother to get used to.

“She read an article once about this Mudcat Grant,” he said. “She called me up and said ‘you better check this Mudcat fellow out, he could be some kin to us.’”

To this day, like Monday in Fargo, Mudcat will tell you: “It has been a good nickname.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com

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