freshman Claireece Cross isn't a big baseball fan. So, while she understands why people ask her about her uncle -- and they do, all the time -- she also makes a point to separate his personality from his legacy.
You know, Uncle Ozzie vs. Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame shortstop and St. Louis Cardinals legend.
"It's easy for me to just hang out with him, get along with him and laugh," Cross said. "We're the funny people in the family. That's just how we are. He's just my uncle."
For Black History Month, Cross saw how uniquely positioned she was to help bring a herculean figure from St. Louis sports history to come speak at her school. Starting in the fall, she and a group of friends worked with administrators to organize the event. On Feb. 21, more than 500 students and staff members gathered in the Lafayette Theater to hear Smith talk about his life and career.
Smith took questions from local TV host Pascal Beauboeuf and Lafayette senior Isaac Dixon, a baseball player at the school who was chosen to read select questions from students.
"When I got asked to do the job, I was like, 'Is this really happening?'" Dixon said. "I want to be like him someday. My mind was blown."
Smith took pictures with audience members before and after the presentation and signed balls, hats, T-shirts, cards and whatever else could hold a Sharpie's ink.
During his talk, he shared a message of hard work, perseverance and the importance of his African-American predecessors in paving the way to the major leagues.
"We get an opportunity to talk about some of the greats that have gone before us, who have afforded us the opportunities that we have," Smith said. "When you're a pioneer, there are so many more challenges. There were so many more challenges for Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Jackie was the right man and had the right temperament. Nothing that happened to me could ever compare to what Jackie had to deal with."
Cross said it was a special experience to see her uncle in his element, speaking to a crowd that was hanging on every word.
"I used to help out with Black History Month events, but having my uncle come and talk and having people experience things with him, it was really cool," Cross said.