ATLANTA -- For years now, former All-Star pitcher and current TBS analyst Ron Darling has been pushing to cover the Civil Rights Game. For the 2011 version, not only will he finally get his wish, but he'll probably be joined in the booth by two immortals from his youth -- Braves legend Hank Aaron and Cubs legend Ernie Banks.
"For somebody who likes politics, they like to meet presidents; for somebody who likes baseball, that's the closest I'm going to get with Banks and Aaron," said Darling, who will provide color commentary for Sunday's Delta Civil Rights Game on TBS, alongside play-by-play man Dick Stockton. MLB Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig is also scheduled to be in the booth.
MLB's fifth annual Civil Rights Game will begin at 1:35 p.m. ET and will pin the division-rival Phillies and Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta.
The jewel event -- which began in Memphis, then moved to Cincinnati from 2009-10 before making its way to Atlanta for the next two seasons -- aims to celebrate those who fought for key social issues on and off the field.
It's also about continuing efforts to make baseball as diverse as possible.
"Any time we can bring awareness to anyone, or any minorities that are not playing the game or being included in the game, I think that's what we're trying to do is be inclusive instead of keeping people away," said Darling, who pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues, compiled 136 wins and a 3.87 ERA, and won a World Series championship with the Mets in 1986.
"Any time we recognize these things, I think it's a really big step."
Civil Rights Game activities will begin Friday with the Baseball and the Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. On Saturday -- between the morning Youth Summit at Centennial Olympic Park and the evening Beacon Awards Banquet at the Omni Hotel -- MLB will honor Negro League players prior to the Phillies-Braves game, with both teams sporting their cities' respective Negro League uniforms.
On Sunday, a pregame ceremony will honor the Beacon Award winners and both teams will sport retro 1974 uniforms.
The fifth Civil Rights Game will feature two teams that will probably be going toe-to-toe for the division crown all year, a trio of African-American stars -- Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, and Jason Heyward of the Braves -- and a Roy Halladay-Tim Hudson pitching matchup.
But Darling feels it's about more than that.
"We're honoring Jackie [Robinson] -- who was the start -- and we're honoring all of those after Jackie who had to not sleep in the same hotel, not eat at the same restaurants," Darling said. "That's what this day is about -- to recognize all that has happened in the past, to recognize how baseball stood up and got better over time, and how it's going to try to be even better as time goes on."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.