“This is a project I’ve always wanted to do,” said Russell, the product development communications and brand strategist for Sony Interactive Entertainment. He played a vital role in working across multiple teams who did a “tremendously smart job” in creating the mode.
“So many of our fans — even when they hear the word ‘Negro Leagues’ — they have no context of what the Negro League is and what it represents,” Russell continued. “I’ve been asked ‘Hey, when are you going to have the Negro Leagues?’ My answer would be, ‘As soon as we can find the right way to do it.’ As you know, perfection is the enemy of progress. But about two years ago, I felt like now is the time.”
Not a lot of game footage from the Negro Leagues exists, so game creators gathered archive video and photos from the museum and family members of the deceased players to collect as much as they could. That helped nail down the fine animation details for each player, jerseys and the stadiums where games were held.
Russell said the process was a tedious one, but it couldn’t have fully come together without the expertise of Kendrick — who he says knows the real history of the Negro Leagues and players “more than anyone else.” He said Kendrick was the perfect person to narrate the storyline mode, because of his well-rounded knowledge about players’ greatness.
Even though Jackie Robinson was the first African American player to play in a Major League Baseball game in 1947, Kendrick said during his narration in the mode that Robinson was not the best player from the Negro Leagues. He said the league had such a rich talent pool where players played with in a “bold, brash way” and was “fast and daring.”
“It’s not to disparage Jackie at all, but this is how great the talent was in the Negro Leagues,” Kendrick said. “I tell people all the time that the talent in the Negro Leagues would not take a backseat to any league. We’re talking about some of the greatest athletes to ever put on a baseball uniform. And unfortunately, the majority of the public, they don’t know these names. But they should, both from a baseball perspective as well as a historical perspective.”