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Anderson has deep respect for No. 42

Anderson has deep respect for No. 42

MILWAUKEE -- When the idea of wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day recently was presented to Garret Anderson by club executive Tim Mead, the Angels' left fielder and elder statesman experienced an emotional reaction.

"I personally don't feel I'm worthy of it," Anderson said to Mead, respectfully declining.

Mead next took the initiative to Gary Matthews Jr., and the Angels' new center fielder enthusiastically accepted.

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When Matthews pulls on No. 42 on Sunday in Boston, flipping the numbers normally on the back of his jersey, Anderson will offer his full support -- and remember Robinson in his own way, as he did when he began to come of age as a young man developing a talent for the game Jackie changed on April 15, 1947, when he graced the Brooklyn Dodgers' lineup for the first time.

"I know pretty much everything Jackie's done," Anderson said, seated at his locker at Miller Park before a game against the Cleveland Indians. "I look at what he did with his life, using baseball as a platform to accomplish what he wanted socially, and it was bigger than baseball -- much bigger.

"He represented equality, not just for black people, but for Latin people and others from across the waters. It was the time of civil rights in this country, and he stood tall and carried a heavy weight for all people.

"That's what I take from his life -- and that's why I feel unworthy of wearing his number. I feel it's his number -- it's retired. But if other guys want to do it, I'll tip my cap to them. I don't downplay any of those other players. We all have our own way of expressing how we feel about things."

The Angels' franchise leader in games played, hits, doubles, total bases and runs batted in, Anderson grew up in Southern California -- all over the area -- with a single mother moving from job to job.

He was constantly being uprooted as a child, living in the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach, Cerritos, the inner city ... wherever his mother could find work.

Anderson was a child when he first heard of Robinson.

"I was in elementary school, what age, I'm not sure," Anderson said. "My dad played baseball on weekends, and I might have heard it there, about the first black guy who played Major League Baseball.

"As I got older and was able to explore it, reading stuff, I began to realize what he tried to do, his role in the whole civil rights movement -- and he became a much bigger figure in my mind. I saw all that, what Jackie meant to society, and I started putting the puzzle together.

"I was in high school by then, at Kennedy High in Granada Hills. I'd told my mom when I was at Maclay Junior High School in Pacoima that I didn't want to change schools any more, so I'd take city buses from L.A. to Pacoima."

A member of the 1989 Los Angeles City championship baseball team at Kennedy, playing for coach Manny Alvarado, Anderson also played basketball and football, graduating in 1990.

Drafted in the fourth round by the Angels in 1990, Anderson signed and began his climb through the farm system, reaching Anaheim in 1994 and becoming a regular a year later.

Playing on sound legs for the first time since 2003, when he led the American League with 49 doubles while hitting 29 homers and driving in 116 runs, Anderson is confident he'll return to his prime-time form this season at 34.

At home this winter, when he wasn't hanging out with his three children, Anderson took time to read Curt Flood's biography, "Well-Paid Slave."

Moved by Flood's campaign to create free agency, taking it to the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn management's control over players, Anderson mentioned to his wife, Teresa, that it reminded him of Robinson's struggle to integrate Major League Baseball.

"I didn't realize how hard it was for [Flood] to challenge the owners, how it cost him his career," Anderson said. "I told my wife, `He paid a terrific price for what he did -- like Jackie.'

"She said, `No, Jackie carried the weight of everybody, not just ballplayers. Jackie had a lot more on his plate.'

"She was right, of course. Curt Flood sacrificed his career, but Jackie Robinson carried a burden few people ever have. He had a whole society of people riding on his shoulders. That's an awesome responsibility, and you can only imagine how difficult it was for him.

"It's really humbling, when you think about it. That's why I just don't feel worthy."

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

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