LOS ANGELES -- With fitting solemnity, the Dodgers honored their own No. 42 Saturday night on another coast and at a different ballpark, 59 years to the day Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in a Major League Baseball game, thus changing the course of history. "It never gets old," his daughter, Sharon, said before the brief ceremony. "Every time that video goes up on the board, I have to hold back the tears." Before the ceremonies even began, Sharon Robinson sought out Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who met her behind home plate. The two shook hands and Bonds then was introduced to a group of Robinson scholarship students, who are attending local universities, and here for the third annual special night.
One of the primary goals of the Jackie Robinson Foundation is to provide scholarships to students nationally. A $10,000 donation funds one scholarship per student per academic year. Bonds said he has long honored Robinson and, as the son of the late Giants center fielder Bobby Bonds, was well aware of No. 42's contributions since he was a little kid. "I think we're all significant in this country, but he's obviously more significant to this sport," Bonds said. "It's so obvious. My dad told me all the stories. I've known them all since I was a baby. He was the type of man every one of us would wish we could be." The festivities at Dodger Stadium came only hours after a similar ceremony featuring Rachael Robinson, Jackie's widow and Sharon's mother, was staged at New York's Shea Stadium. Robinson's first game was April 15, 1947, a 5-3 victory over the Boston Braves at old Ebbetts Field in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. At Dodger Stadium, Sharon Robinson was accompanied on the field by Don Newcombe, Jackie Robinson's former Brooklyn teammate, and Kenny Lofton, who just joined the current Dodgers this season. "At this point, anything to do with Jackie Robinson is very important to African-Americans," Lofton said before the ceremony. "It's important just understanding what he went through, understanding how the game was, the trials and tribulations he went through. I'm just honored to be a part of the game right now and it's all because of him." Last year, Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt announced that the team had endowed the Robinson Foundation with a grant of $105,000 annually for a decade to sponsor 42 new college scholarships each year worth $2,500 a piece to minority students in the Los Angeles area. "We're beginning the second year of that commitment, and I'm so honored to be back here because of that," Sharon Robinson said. The number of scholarships, of course, echoes Jackie Robinson's uniform number, which was retired throughout baseball by decree of Commissioner Bud Selig in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson joining the Dodgers. "He was such an important figure," said Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame Dodgers manager who was a teammate of Robinson on the 1954-55 squads. "I mean, nobody's had that honor -- their uniform retired by everybody in professional baseball. That's just a sign to tell you what he meant to the game of baseball and this country." The Foundation was established 33 years ago in Robinson's name to promote education among the nation's minority students. Since then, more than 1,000 have been endowed and the graduation rate is 97 percent, said Della Britton Baeza, the Foundation's president and chief executive. At present, only three athletes fund scholarships through the Foundation -- the Yankees' Derek Jeter, retired MLB star Mo Vaughn, and former NBA great Michael Jordan. Last year, Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, made a commitment to sponsor a scholarship and said it was for all the right reasons. "Bud has continually stated that baseball's most shining moment, its most important moment in its history was the day that Jackie Robinson crossed the baseline and crossed the color line," DuPuy said at the time.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com associate reporter Amanda Branam contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.