"That probably ranks up at almost the very top of my list as far as honors -- the reason being what he's done and what his wife continues to do," Sanders said. "He's one of the reasons why I'm here. So, definitely, paying tribute to him is great for me and for my family."
Added Brown: "For someone to endure, persevere -- I can't imagine what [Robinson] went through. For him to endure it and to continue to be a person you look at with such dignity is special. He kept his head straight. He didn't bow or bend."
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 honor of the 50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform number 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.
Because Sanders and Brown represent Kansas City -- where the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located and where former Kansas City Monarchs player and manager Buck O'Neil preached racial tolerance until his death at 94 in October 2006 -- the tribute took on additional meaning.
"Prior to me coming here, Buck O'Neil was the one that elicited me to come here. He was definitely a guy who influenced me to come to Kansas City," Sanders explained.
The Royals have established the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat in the aisle seat behind home plate that O'Neil, a former Royals scout, regularly occupied. A person who exemplifies O'Neil's spirit will get to sit in the red seat in Section 101, Row C at each Royals home game.
"On Sundays, I was so used to seeing Buck out there," said Brown. "Him not being here, it's sad. You think of Buck O'Neil and you think of Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. You think of all those guys who we owe a lot to for what we have today."