CLEVELAND -- When first presented with the opportunity to wear Jackie Robinson's No. 42, C.C. Sabathia figured he'd be doing so while seated firmly on the bench. Sabathia, you see, wasn't originally scheduled to pitch Sunday's home game against the White Sox. But when Mother Nature wiped out four home games and forced the Indians to make some adjustments to their rotation, Sabathia suddenly fell in line for a start on Jackie Robinson Day. Turns out, it was a memorable one. The Tribe's ace left-hander worked eight innings in which all he allowed was a run on five hits with 10 strikeouts to go 3-0 to start a season for the first time in his career.
It was, simply, a performance that would have made Jackie proud. "It meant a lot [to wear the number]," Sabathia said. "I'm just excited I got a chance to pitch. To be able to pitch and play on this day was huge." Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of that event, Robinson's No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues. Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem. Alex Aguilar, a Toledo native and Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship recipient, was invited to Jacobs Field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Sunday's game. Center fielder Grady Sizemore joined Sabathia in wearing the No. 42 jersey on the field. Second baseman Josh Barfield was given the day off, so he wore it in the dugout. The jerseys will be auctioned off by MLB, with proceeds benefiting the Jackie Robinson Fund. Additionally, home clubhouse manager Tony Amato will make a copy of the jersey for each of the three players to keep as a memento, and another copy will be made to be auctioned off for Cleveland Indians Charities. "This was just a chance to remember what [Robinson] did and what he brought to the game," said Sizemore, whose father is African-American. "It's the least you can do. It brings some awareness to him." Some in baseball, Sabathia included, feel the tribute might have been cheapened a tad by the sheer mass of people wearing No. 42. Originally, the honor was going to be bestowed upon one member of each club. By the time Sunday's action got under way, entire teams were wearing the number. Then again, Sabathia couldn't fault anyone for wanting to join in the celebration of the man's legacy. "I understand what people are trying to do," Sabathia said. "It does water it down a little bit. But it's for a good cause, and everybody's trying to do the right thing." Said Barfield: "We just want to pay our respects to a great man. I can understand why so many people wanted to wear it. It's such a good idea that everybody wants to be a part of it." The Indians have requested permission to bring Larry Doby's No. 14 out of retirement for their game against the Tigers on July 5, the 60th anniversary of the day Doby broke the American League color barrier with the Tribe. It's believed the league will give the Indians an answer sometime after the Jackie Robinson Day hubbub has died down. "Hopefully the league will let us do it," Sabathia said. "It's definitely something that needs to be honored."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.