Robinson celebrated by all players

Robinson celebrated by all

A life remembered. A legacy honored. Hopes being given wings, the evidence in vivid display on diamonds sparkling with the inheritors of the dream.

As Major League Baseball paused on Tuesday for its annual observance of Jackie Robinson Day, it was evident that the man who wanted to be most remembered for impacting others' lives still wields that power.

From midday to night, from coast to coast, from New York to San Diego, the 61st anniversary of Robinson's barrier-breaking debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers was celebrated.

But the prevalent statistics in ballparks around the nation weren't Robinson's baseball numbers, but the dozens of Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars who participated in ceremonies as tangible proof of an abstract concept.

Jackie Robinson scholars were front and center at every ballpark, making and catching first pitches, singing, or just taking bows as testament that the dream Rachel Robinson had in starting a foundation in her late husband's name in 1973 -- within months of his death -- is working.

In that spirit, the Foundation will also be the major beneficiary of Tuesday's celebrations, long after video boards stopped flickering with sepia images and the cheers faded. Artifacts from Tuesday's games, from specially-marked bases to game-worn No. 42 uniforms, are being auctioned to benefit the Foundation.

Marlon Anderson of the Mets weighed the day's proceedings in the proper context, focusing on Robinson's "integrity as a person and the things that he stood for -- those are the things that stand out to me about him as a person, more than a baseball player."

"You want everybody to succeed in life," Anderson added, "and if people follow his principles and the way he went about things, in whatever they do they'll definitely be successful in life."

The focal point of this year's celebration was Flushing, N.Y., and Shea Stadium.

Earlier in the day, before pregame ceremonies prior to the Nationals-Mets game, the Mets unveiled the in-progress centerpiece of their new home, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field.

Rachel Robinson was moved to compare the imposing memorial -- vaulted ceilings, circular architecture -- to "in a way, it's like St. Peter's in Rome."

Of all the teams observing the day by honoring Robinson by wearing his hallowed uniform, the Yankees were somewhat unique. And not only because they have the only remaining Major Leaguer who regularly wears that number, reliever Mariano Rivera, who was grandfathered into keeping a uniform he has worn since 1995.

But second baseman Robinson Cano was named by his dad after the icon (and regularly wears the mirror-image 24). Cano and manager Joe Girardi also donned No. 42 for Tuesday night's game in St. Petersburg.

"It's special -- you think about people that have had such an impact on our world, and Jackie is one of them," Girardi said. "The impact is still felt on a daily basis in our country. It's an honor. Sometimes you feel that maybe you're not worthy, but it's nice to be part of a tribute to it."

Baseball's own very special rainbow coalition formed a palette of humanity to honor Robinson's legacy and express gratitude for his deed.

"Obviously, no matter what kind of race, color, religion, or background you come from, I think everybody that puts on a Major League uniform -- or a baseball uniform, for that matter -- has a respect and a love for Jackie Robinson," noted Mets third baseman David Wright. "So I think it's great that we get to show that appreciation. To be able to do it in New York, it makes it even more special."

Although, understandably, the day was more emotional for black players, many of whom conceivably learned of the depth of Robinson's impact only in the 11 years since MLB turned the anniversary of his debut into baseball's one true national holiday.

"I was just stunned at the opportunity I'm getting," said Orioles outfielder Adam Jones. "I know a lot about him ... the way he carried himself and handled the stuff with the racism that he faced. It was off the field that made him what he is. Every kid or every adult knows the name Jackie Robinson."

"You know you're putting on a number that's not yours, but that's retired in every ballpark. You have to stop and ask why. Why are we doing it?" posed the Mets' Damion Easley. "What does it mean? We forget about the people that kind of paved the way or opened doors or were just pioneers.

"I don't know a significant way to do it. But the fact that we're trying to do something means something."

"It is an honor to wear his number," said Giants second baseman Ray Durham, chosen to be the only one on his team to play in No. 42. "He meant so much to a lot of players, not only black players. He's created opportunities for other players, not only our sport, but other sports too."

"There's so much you can say about Jackie Robinson," Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson said. "There aren't words. I can't put it into words."

In Cleveland, C.C. Sabathia was warmed on the bench by the No. 42 on his back.

"To me, he means everything," said Sabathia. "I wouldn't get a chance to play this game if it wasn't for him. He means so much to so many people, but he means everything to me."

"It's an honor," said Derrek Lee, one of the Cubs' Nos. 42, in Wrigley Field before the Cubs played the Reds. "Anything you can do to bring awareness to what he did and pay your respects to what he did is definitely a good thing."

Across town, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen confirmed the educational role of Jackie Robinson Day.

"I thought I kind of knew baseball," Guillen, who also crediting visits to Kansas City's Negro League Museum and the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis with his illumination, said. "But I learned a lot about this country and how baseball is very important. I think this man [Robinson] did a lot of great things for us."

"That's the guy who set the stage for me and the rest of us minorities," said Astros manager Cecil Cooper in Philadelphia. "I'm tickled to have the opportunity to wear the number. It might be cold and I might have my jacket on. Maybe I'll take it off in the middle of the game [so people can see that number]. It's a thrill."

Inasmuch as the day celebrates a seismic social shift more than just the individual who triggered it, a thoughtful reminder by Coco Crisp was very appropriate.

The current Red Sox and former Indians outfielder, back in Cleveland as a visiting player, urged people to also remember Larry Doby, who became the American League's first black player in Robinson's 11-week-old footsteps, when he debuted with the Indians on July 5, 1947 -- in uniform No. 14.

"You can't forget about him," Crisp said. "Both of those guys, we get to celebrate by wearing Jackie Robinson's number."

The leadoff game for the coast-to-coast celebration provided a tough act for the rest of the schedule to follow.

In Arlington, the entire squads of the Angels and the Rangers respectfully wore the No. 42.

Amid all the remembrances, testimonials and reverent recollections, Rangers pitcher Joaquin Benoit, although a native of the Dominican Republic, boiled down the day's significance to brute basics.

"This is why I'm here," Benoit said. "No. 42. He broke that barrier."

"We all appreciate what this represents to the game," Rangers shortstop Michael Young said. "I'm not going to pretend to understand what [Robinson] went through, but everybody understands the important contribution he made to the game and to our country."

While the unanimity of the Angels and Rangers was dramatic in its own way, elsewhere the unique honor of wearing Robinson's number touched the chosen in a different way.

"It's an absolute honor," Marlins third-base coach Bo Porter said in Miami, where he caught the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game against the Braves. "It's a monumental thing in baseball. To me, [Robinson] is an American hero."

Prior to throwing out the first pitch in U.S. Cellular Field, Minnie Minoso accepted a touching award. Minoso became the White Sox first black player in 1951; having been born in Cuba, however, that did not make him the franchise's first African-American player.

Nevertheless, Minoso received the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Negro League Museum.

Highlights of other Jackie Robinson Day observances:

• In St. Louis, Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock caught a pair of ceremonial first pitches, delivered by JR Foundation Scholars.

• In San Diego, another Hall of Fame outfielder, Dave Winfield, presented a check from the Padres Foundation to support future Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars.

• In Philadelphia, special recognition was given to the four surviving members of the Negro Leagues' Philadelphia Stars: pitcher Harold Gould, second baseman Mahlon Duckett and catchers Bill Cash and Stanley Glenn -- who knew Robinson.

"I've never met an example like Jackie Robinson," Glenn said. "Educated? Yes. Staunchly built? Yes. If I were in a fox hole and wanted somebody next to me, it would probably be Jackie. That's saying an awful lot about a human being.

"If America did not have sports, and baseball in particular, I don't know what kind of country we would be. So keep on loving it, keep on supporting it and let the world continue to know that baseball is America's game."

And on that note, amen.

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