Johnny Taylor Field Opens at Colt Park

A Colt Park field now holds the name of Hartford baseball legend Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor, the first Black professional athlete to come out of the city.

The Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, Hartford Public Schools and members of the community gathered to honor Taylor’s legacy and dedicate the newly renovated Field #9 to him before its inaugural game — Bulkeley High School against Rocky Hill. A fitting first match, since Taylor started his baseball career as a senior at Bulkeley.

“The icing in on the cake will be for Hartford youth to embrace the American game of baseball and move Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor’s legacy far into the future,” said Lynne Taylor-Grande, Johnny’s daughter.

Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Wes Ulbrich of the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League (left) and Lynne Taylor-Grande, the daughter of Johnny Taylor, hug at home base Field #9 at Colt Field was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

“This is absolutely like being in Walt Disney World.”

Lynette Taylor-Grand, Johnny Taylor’s Daughter
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny "Schoolboy" Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon.
Wearing a COVID-19 mask and a Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor ceremonial jersey that all members of his team wore, Gilberto Carrion of the Bulkeley/Hartford Public High School baseball team, looks out over Taylor Field before the dedication ceremonies Wednesday afternoon. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

The high school baseball teams shared the excitement, as they returned to the field after a pandemic, wearing ceremonial jerseys with Taylor’s picture on them.

“Enjoy the moment. Make Johnny proud,” said Alex Mercado, Hartford head coach. “Focus on the moment.”

Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park's Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor.
Robert Grande, the grandson of Johnny Taylor, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Colt Park’s Field #9 after it was dedicated and renamed for Johnny Taylor. (Mark Mirko/Mark Mirko)

Negro Leagues star Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor may be Hartford’s greatest baseball player; with enough signatures, a city ballfield may be named for him »

Despite the racial discrimination that kept him out of the major leagues, Taylor made a name for himself with his high leg kick and legendary fastball. He is widely considered one of the greatest baseball players to come out of Connecticut.

Hartford's Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans.
Hartford’s Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor circa 1936 when he played for the New York Cubans. (Handout)

Taylor played for the Negro League from 1935 to 1945. He pitched eight career no-hitters and was a standout player in leagues in New York, Cuba and Mexico. Though he retired from the game before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, it was players like Taylor who left the United States to play in other countries that helped pressure Major League Baseball and the American League to integrate.

Taylor couldn’t stay away for long. He returned two years after his retirement to become the first Black athlete to sign with the Hartford Chiefs of the Eastern League for his final season in 1949, keeping the nickname he earned in Cuba — “El Rey de Hartford” (or the King of Hartford).

Johnny 'Schoolboy' Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950.
Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor, left, in a Hartford Chiefs uniform, and Satchel Paige, right, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy of Estelle Taylor)

“He’s probably the most worthy figure in Hartford’s baseball history,” GHTBL secretary Weston Ulbrich told the Courant when he started the effort to name the field after Taylor in 2019.

Johnny Taylor was born in Hartford in 1916 and raised in the South End, where he played pickup games at Colt Park as a kid. He ran track at Bulkeley High School before joining the baseball team his senior year. More on the life and legacy of Johnny “Schoolboy” Taylor »

Beyond baseball, he worked at Pratt & Whitney and in construction with his father. Taylor helped build Hartford Hospital. His wife Estelle, who was the first Black nurse at New Britain General Hospital, later became one of the first Black nurses at Hartford Hospital, too.

Johnny enjoyed taking his four children to the Hartford Public Library Campfield Avenue branch to exchange books. Estelle loved bringing the kids shopping at local department stores and to the Wadsworth Atheneum.

In 1982, Taylor was inducted into the Twilight League Hall of Fame. He died in 1987 at the age of 71. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the Bulkeley High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

This article was written by Sabrina Herrera who can be reached at sherrera@courant.com. Sabrina is a visual journalist. She joined the Hartford Courant in 2018, after working as a video editor in broadcast news at NBC Connecticut. She studied journalism and French language at UConn. She grew up in Greenwich and now calls the Hartford area home. Sabrina is passionate about the arts, education, language, and people.

Start a Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *