No one questioned why Cam Perron, the curly-haired 22-year-old white guy from Arlington, Mass., was with the former players of the Negro League when they gathered at their annual reunion in Birmingham.
The recent Tulane University graduate is more than a researcher who tracks down teammates with whom they have lost touch. He’s a kindred spirit, a member of the family, a team member who never suited up.
“Me being 22 and not ever having played in the Negro League, I’ve become part of that family,” Perron said this week.
The story of Cam Perron and his adoption into the Negro League Baseball family could come to a movie theater near you.
Perron was in Birmingham this week for the annual Negro League reunion. With him was Gene Hong, whose writing credits include the TV shows “Bones,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Community” on NBC, and a tennis feature called “Break Point” with J.K. Simmons and Jeremy Sisto.
Hong has visions of writing Perron’s story for a movie. The screenwriter learned of Perron and his deep passion for Negro League ballplayers after seeing a 2013 feature about him on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”
Perron drew the show’s attention with his dogged determination to track down long-forgotten Negro League baseball players. A film crew was back in town this week to produce a follow-up on the 2013 feature. A date has not been set for it to air.
“First of all, I loved the story,” Hong said. “Second of all, the part where Cam gets really determined to track down players and then earn their pensions, it reminded me of Erin Brockovich.”
Julia Roberts starred in the movie based on the true story of Brockovich, an unemployed single mother who became a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brought down a California company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.
“He had that same relentlessness,” the screenwriter said of Perron. “That’s when I thought this could be a really great story.”
Perron’s interest began as a 12-year-old’s pursuit of autographed baseball cards. He reached out to major league players and Negro Leaguers. To his surprise, the former Negro League players responded to his calls and letters, and friendships blossomed.
Dr. Layton Revel, the leading authority on Negro League Baseball, and Birmingham chef Clayton Sherrod have annually put out the call for former Negro Leaguers. They have hosted 10 events, a pair of dinners and a series of annual two-day reunions that have been timed to correspond with the annual Rickwood Classic.
“Cam was 14 when he came to the first reunion,” said Revel, who lent his collection of Negro League artifacts to the Negro Southern League Museum in Birmingham. “His mother brought him. Cam has been coming every year since.”
Perron said it’s been mind-blowing to see his relationship with the Negro League players grow.
“I had gone from writing letters and talking on the phone with these people to us getting 50, 60 players from all around the country together, let alone that happening every year,” he said. “I thought we had blown all our resources on that first one. But after that first one was such a success, it just kept growing from there. Not having it was not really an option after that.”
Perron became part of the Negro League family by his dogged determination to track down ballplayers who had not been part of past gatherings. That search is beneficial to the players as he, Sherrod and Revel document players who played at least four years in the Negro Leagues, which makes them eligible for a pension from Major League Baseball.
“You look at all these players mingling, chatting,” Perron said. “You have guys who are almost 100 years old. You have guys who are in their early 70s. You have guys who played in the ’30s and you have guys who played in the ’60s, in the final days of the Negro League.
“Whether you’re blind, whether you can walk (or) you can’t walk, whether you’re a white player who played in the Negro League, regardless of these differences, all these guys come together,” he continued. “They find a common interest in the experiences that they had.”
Hong said the story he is crafting is about Perron, but also casts light on the Negro League players.
“Erin Brockovich … was really a story about her taking care of her family, but it delved into this town that was owed money because they were a wronged community,” he said. “Her story brought light to a different community. In the same way, I want to tell his story but to bring light to this other story. It will be like two parallel stories.”