Aaron reflects on Jackie's strength, inspiration

Aaron reflects on Jackie's strength, inspiration

Aaron reflects on Jackie's strength, inspiration
ATLANTA -- Hank Aaron battled racial inequalities on his way to becoming one of baseball's greatest legends. But the man many still considered to be the game's home run king doesn't know if he would have had the strength to endure the abuse Jackie Robinson experienced when he became Major League Baseball's first African-American player.

"It was a tough situation for Jackie and I think only a chosen few could have done it," Aaron said. "I don't know that I could have done it. I was taught to do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. But I was never taught that when people abuse you, you don't fight back."

Aaron and Martin Luther King III, the son of the great Civil Rights leader, were among the dignitaries that gathered at Turner Field on Friday night to celebrate Major League Baseball's Jackie Robinson Day, which has been annually celebrated since 2004 on the anniversary of Robinson's Major League debut.

Robinson broke baseball's color barrier when he made his Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Seven years later, when he made his Major League debut for the Milwaukee Braves, Aaron was among the countless African-Americans who viewed Robinson as a source of inspiration and strength.

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"It's a day that I reflect back to the days when I was playing when Jackie Robinson was on the field," Aaron said. "I'm just happy that Major League Baseball has found fit to continue to celebrate Jackie's inauguration into baseball. I reflect back on some of the things that made me who I was in baseball and who inspired me the most. I would have to say No. 42, Jackie Robinson, was the one that gave me my inspiration to do as well as I could. I still apply that same thing to my everyday life."

Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated at every big league park that was scheduled to host a game Friday night. Every Major League player, coach, manager and umpire wore the No. 42 to honor Robinson, who wore this number while playing for the Dodgers from 1947-56.

Because rain postponed Friday's series opener between the Braves and Mets, the two teams will wear No. 42 jerseys during the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. Braves right fielder Jason Heyward will wear black and royal blue spikes adorned with the No. 42.

"I think the respect that Jackie deserves is finally coming due," Aaron said. "When you see all the numbers being worn and it's coming from the Commissioner's Office, I think things are starting to be recognized."

Jimmie Lee Solomon, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball development, was also present at Turner Field to celebrate the 64th anniversary of Robinson's historic debut.

When the Braves were awarded the Civil Rights Game for this year and 2012, Solomon excitedly talked about the opportunity to stage the event in the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders.

"Jackie Robinson is one of the reasons that we even have a Civil Rights Game," Solomon said. "A lot of people don't recognize the fact that when Jackie integrated baseball that was the grand experiment. Our entire society had an opportunity to see. It was before Brown vs. Education. It was before the Armed Forces integrated. It was before Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. It was before a lot of more-focused-on Civil Rights actions took place, even Dr. King.

"[Robinson] gave us the ability to stand side-by-side and dream together. More importantly than that, the legacy he left allowed us to believe our kids could play together, learn each other live together in the future."

Growing up, Martin Luther King III remembers seeing pictures of his father with Robinson. "I knew they did interact from time to time, and I imagine they had discussions about things he himself, Jackie Robinson, had to go through," King said. "He opened a huge door for a number of persons in the National League."

King was scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch before Friday night's game. The Braves didn't know if he would be able to return for either of Saturday's games.

While waiting through the rain early Friday, the Braves recognized a group of students honored as Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars. Darryl Armstrong and Darrell Stabler were also presented Jackie Robinson Most Valuable Diverse Business Partner awards.

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