CALVERT, Texas – Born to a preacher and sharecropper in tiny Calvert, Texas, in 1879, you’d be forgiven if you wouldn’t think one of the most influential men in baseball history had this origin story.

Often not thought of as more of a pit stop between Waco and Houston on Highway 6, Calvert is barely big enough for 1,100 residents and one stoplight – yet their influence on baseball is seismic.

“He is the most influential figure in Negro League Baseball history,” says baseball historian Eric Robinson.

Although born a little less than an hour away, Rube Foster perfected his craft playing Waco for the Texas Negro Leagues’ Yellow Jackets at the turn of the 20th century.

“There are even stories about him in Waco. During his time there of winning eleven games in eleven nights in a row, which is just crazy whenever you think of pitcher usage these days,” Robinson said.

Foster’s impact on the game goes right down to his nickname, which he earned when he beat MLB All-Star Rube Waddell in an exhibition game.

Furthermore, it is rumored that he would be giving pitching tips to legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw and also to Christy Matthewson – who is still regarded as one of baseball’s greatest ever pitchers – when the team would train in Marlin.

“There are a lot of stories, whether they are backed up by actual fact or just myth, of him in the wintertime working with prominent white baseball players,” Robinson said.

After his legendary playing days, Foster sought to organize black baseball, which was made up of barnstorming teams which would travel to play exhibitions all over the world.

In 1920, the Negro National League was born under Foster’s tutelage as league president. It featured teams from the big cities across the northeast and midwest. The team he owned and managed, the Chicago American Giants, was one of the league’s founding members.

For the decade leading up to his death in 1930, Foster created a breeding ground for some of the country’s best talent, regardless of race. They even changed the way the game was played.

“It’s called ‘small ball’ today, but the Negro Leagues, and Rube Foster in particular, were very adept at hitting and running, laying down a bunt to get a player on first,” says Jay Black, of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. “Rube Foster was doing this years and years ago. Really a pioneer of a lot of the baseball we see today.”

While his legacy is firmly entrenched in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and the Negro League Museum in Kansas City, it’s more of an afterthought in Calvert.

Just a block over from the picturesque Main Street lays a different Calvert, on the other side of the train tracks. There lies a historical marker to honor Foster just outside a baseball field that doesn’t even resemble the sport that was (presumably) once played on it.

It’s just a small tribute for a figure larger than the game.

“It’s almost as if you could imagine Babe Ruth being combined with Branch Rickey,” Black said. “[He’s] both sides of the ledger as far as a great player, and someone who knows the game and is able to organize these kind of independent leagues and traveling teams.”

Maybe if trailblazers like Foster got more recognition in their hometowns, it could inspire the next generation of children to change the game.

“Maybe it’ll inspire a young student on a field trip to say, ‘How come I can’t check out a biography of Rube Foster or Andy Cooper in my library? Maybe I’ll go out and do some research and write that book,'” Black said.