Upton, Zimmer pay tribute to Jackie Robinson

Upton, Zimmer pay tribute to Jackie Robinson

Upton, Zimmer pay tribute to Jackie Robinson
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated throughout Major League Baseball on Friday, and each player for the Rays and Twins wore No. 42 in honor of Robinson's breaking of the color barrier 64 years ago.

B.J. Upton called Robinson "a pioneer for African-American players."

"What he went through, I don't think a lot of us today could deal with what he dealt with," Upton said. "He pretty much gave us an opportunity."

Upton has heard racial slurs at the ballpark, most recently during a Spring Training game in which manager Joe Maddon had a fan ejected from Charlotte Sports Park for the comments.

Upton could only imagine what Robinson endured as the first black player in Major League Baseball.

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"That's my point," he said. "Like I said, I don't think a lot of us today could deal with what he did."

Denard Span of the Twins spoke with great respect for Robinson.

"Me being an African-American player, [Jackie Robinson Day] means the world," Span said. "If it wasn't for him going through what he went through, I wouldn't be here, and so many others wouldn't be given the opportunity to play this game we love to play.

"It's a special day. He was a special man in history, and he'll be remembered as long as this game is being played. Just to have the opportunity to tell my kids one day that I wore Jackie Robinson's number for at least one day every season, it's a great thing for me."

Rays special adviser Don Zimmer remembered Robinson, his former teammate on the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"Of course when I got to the Major Leagues, things were a little better [for Robinson] than what he had to go through in 1947," Zimmer said. "But still, when I was there playing with him, he had to go to different hotels, different restaurants. It was hard. You had to be a tough, tough man to do what he did."

Zimmer called the treatment of Robinson "a sad thing, something that you and I wouldn't even think could happen. ... But it was there."

Zimmer smiled when recounting one of his favorite anecdotes about Robinson.

"Sal Maglie was pitching one day against us, the Giants against the Dodgers," he said. "Maglie was called 'The Barber' because he knocked everybody down."

Zimmer said that Maglie "knocked about three guys down in a row" before Robinson stepped to the plate and proclaimed to Maglie, "'First of all, you can't hit me. If you hit me, you couldn't hurt me with that stuff you throw. And third, I'm going to push this bunt down the first-base line and see if you field it.' "

Zimmer chuckled, noting that Robinson put down a perfectly placed bunt along the first-base line.

"And Maglie never moved off the mound," he said. "Jackie would have knocked him into right field. Those are the kinds of things I remember. He was a great, great player -- my gosh."

The Rays' game-worn No. 42 jerseys will be raffled off through the Ted Williams Museum Jackie Robinson Day jersey raffle, with the proceeds benefiting the Rays Baseball Foundation's recipients of the Jackie Robinson Scholarship Award.

Prior to the game, a film highlighting Robinson was shown. At the end of the film, the following quote from Robinson appeared on the screen: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on others."

Listening to Upton, Span and Zimmer, and based on the magnitude of Friday's celebration throughout baseball, the importance of Robinson's life could not be disputed.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.