On April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson stepped onto the playing field of Ebbets Field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Seventy years later, former Major League Baseball players LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Erickson and Marlon Anderson and I were invited to Bucharest by the U.S. Embassy in Romania to celebrate the anniversary and to promote baseball, reading and freedom from discrimination.
It seemed incredible that my father's legacy had traveled this far, but baseball is no longer just an American sport. It is becoming a part of the fabric of life and sport throughout the world.
Now I am back home in South Florida, eager to take part in this All-Star Week that the Miami Marlins are hosting, and first I thought it was important to recap our trip for the many people who I think would be proud of what we witnessed. During the five-day period, we shared our American experience and challenges, and the Romanian people introduced us to their world.
By all accounts, it was an outstanding success that included well-publicized events such as: book signings, clinics for 80 youths from underprivileged areas; a screening of the biopic "42" with about 200 people; a meeting with 25 high school exchange students, who had recently returned to Romania after a year in the United States, and a baseball game between Team USA and Team Romania with hundreds in the stands.
Romania's interest in baseball is clearly in its infancy. The Romanian baseball and softball federal told us that 300 children are playing the game, but there are no fields. That's about to change. The Romanian team beat Team USA, and intrigued a couple hundred curious fans. For a country steeped in tradition, Romanians play oina, their traditional stick and ball game. In fact, their national game is almost forgotten and rarely played. With sponsorship, there is hope for baseball to take a foothold in Romania.
The highlight of the trip was the July Fourth celebration at the U.S. Embassy. The roads leading into the embassy were fittingly lined with vintage cars from the 1940s, a fence with posters depicting Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League Baseball, and a giant photo rendering of Ebbets Field. As we entered the grounds, there were more tributes to Jackie Robinson. I was thrilled to look up and see a huge baby picture of me with my parents and even more blown away when the staff presented it to me the next day. More than 3,000 Romanians and staff from various other embassies attended the reception including Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and the U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Hans Klemm.
It was my first time in this beautiful part of the world, and I was thankful baseball and books brought us together.
"Today is Independence Day in America," I told the crowd. "While fireworks will light the sky across cities, towns and rural American communities, this holiday is really about freedom and respect for all mankind.
"It took 50 years to crumble the invisible wall of segregation in baseball and an additional 13 long seasons for every Major League team to have at least one black or brown player on their rosters. But in truth, baseball led the way by integrating a year before President Truman ended segregation in the armed forces and seven years before the historic school desegregation bill. Because of this rich history steeped in tradition, Major League Baseball now celebrates every April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. We do it not to send off fireworks, but to keep us focused on the growth of our great global game and its commitment to diversity."
As we prepared to leave Bucharest, LaTroy, Marlon, Scott and I each pledged to return next year. As I listened, it was clear to each of us that our work was not finished. But it was more than a desire to help further lifting a fledgling interest in baseball to the next level. We had become invested in a warm and welcoming people who had shown us love and gratitude. Besides, they promised to take us to Transylvania, and who can resist the allure of seeing Dracula's Castle?
Now it is time to focus on Marlins Park, site of the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday and the 88th All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday. These are important traditions that we have come to expect on this side of the world, and it means I get to do two things again on Monday that I love doing every year. One is meeting fans at All-Star FanFest at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where I will be signing copies of my book, "The Hero Two Doors Down."
The other thing happens later that day, as I will be reunited with Anna Howe, one of our two Grand Prize winners in our Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life essay contest. I will also get to spend time with her family, and Anna will be presented on the field before the Home Run Derby.
As I said, I'm a Floridian, so this is home territory for me. I live an hour from Miami, just up Interstate 95. I am very excited to have the All-Star Week festivities in our part of the world, and I just have to make sure that Sabu, my little Shih Tzu, is allowed to check into the Miami hotel with me. Oh yes, my dog is coming. He was in a kennel while I was in Bucharest, and he's so happy to be home, so there's no way I'm taking him back there. That's important, too.
Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, is an educational consultant for MLB and the author of several books. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.