"I knew the [Robinson] family, and it was my way of saying thank you," Griffey said Wednesday, donning the No. 42 Mariners uniform. "That was pretty much my way of giving back. I had no idea it would turn into something like this."
Of course, Robinson's legacy has not been reduced to a number, but rather it was celebrated in other ways at all 14 ballparks that held games Wednesday, with Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars being honored at each venue, and images and words retelling his story.
The main celebration was at Citi Field, the Mets' new home, where the magnificent Jackie Robinson Rotunda was officially dedicated, one borough over from where Ebbets Field stood and where Robinson first made his mark on the world.
But, much like his impact, the celebration extended well beyond the five boroughs. It extended through baseball's generations. And that's pretty much the point of Jackie Robinson Day.
In Kansas City, where Robinson played a season in the Negro Leagues before his historic signing by the Dodgers, the generations were all represented in one place. The Royals had Jim "Mudcat" Grant, the first African-American to win 20 games, seated in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat for the game, wearing Robinson's No. 5 Kansas City Monarchs uniform.
"When his name is mentioned, it means a lot," said Grant, who hopes someday Larry Doby will get more attention for breaking the color barrier in the American League.
Frank White, the former Royals second baseman now a Royals broadcaster, grew up in Kansas City and heard tales of Robinson from his father, Frank White Sr. But as part of the next wave of Major Leaguers after Grant, White grew to admire Robinson's influence beyond baseball.
"After leaving baseball, he got involved in civil rights, so he was a complete guy, he wasn't just a baseball guy who played the game, made his mark and went away," White said.
And the current generation was represented by Royals outfielder Coco Crisp, an alumnus of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program and long a proponent of honoring Robinson.
"Obviously, he was before my time, but I grew up hearing stories of his heroics dealing with baseball and what he had to go through, what everybody back in those times had to go through. He just did it in the spotlight of baseball," said Crisp.
The stories resonated throughout the ballparks -- and the generations -- all day.
Like White, Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor played in an era when he was accepted as equal in a Major League clubhouse. But that was after being treated differently while coming up in the Minors in the 1960s.
"It's hard for young players to understand," Baylor said. "You walk out on the field and no one wants to play catch with you. Or no one wants to stand in the shower with you. Wow."
Many young players at least have the opportunity to understand now, and many make the effort to pass along the legacy.
"Obviously, we wouldn't be here without him," the Rays' young star B.J. Upton said. "He paved the way for us. Knowing that he did that for us, I think it's kind of up to us to get more kids into it. It's a great day to go out and honor him by wearing his number, and obviously for a great reason."
Said A's outfielder Rajai Davis, who got to wear No. 42 for the first time: "It's a huge honor. Everything that Jackie represented, everything he did, everything he still stands for, it's almost overwhelming to think about."
Clearly, you don't have to be African-American to grasp it.
"It's a good day today," Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall said. "There's a reason why everybody in the league is wearing his number, and it's because he did great things for the league. It's great to represent him this way."
Added Indians manager Eric Wedge: "The biggest thing about Jackie Robinson, for me, is not necessarily what he did for the game of baseball, but what he did for society. It's not just about baseball, it's American history. It's something the game and the Jackie Robinson family should be very proud of."
Here's a rundown of the activities at ballparks, which on this day were reduced to 14 instead of 15 with the Nationals' home game rained out:
At Dodger Stadium, where national celebrations of Jackie Robinson Day have been held in the past, the only team he ever played for in the Majors celebrated Robinson with a video tribute, followed by Dodgers special advisor to the chairman Don Newcombe, a teammate of Robinson, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to second baseman Orlando Hudson. In addition, the Dodgers recognized 42 students who receive college scholarships from the Dodgers Dream Foundation, which donates $105,000 each year to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Six of those scholars are attending Robinson's alma mater, UCLA.
At Wrigley Field, the Cubs honored Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars Artis Lewis, Jasmyne McDonald, Lauryn Nwampka and Troy White, who plays third base for the Northern Illinois University baseball team and was drafted in the 48th round last June by the Cleveland Indians.
At Oakland Coliseum, the A's focused on Robinson with a scoreboard tribute and the introduction of two local students -- Charles Fyffe and Danielle Benjamin-Arrington -- as the team's Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars for the year.
At Tropicana Field, the Rays recognized two members of the coaching staff, George Hendrick and Steve Henderson, by having each throw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday afternoon's game in recognition of Robinson's ideals of excellence on and off the field, his passion for the game and leadership. The Rays also welcomed their 2009 Jackie Robinson scholars, Carolyn Rose Alvarez-Walter and Ivana Simpson. Each threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
At PNC Park, the Pirates held a pregame ceremony in which they played a video tribute to Robinson on the Jumbotron and recognized their two JRF scholars: Ashley Hill, a mechanical engineering major at Carnegie Mellon, and Anna Nwokelo, a biology major at the University of Pittsburgh, both of whom were given No. 42 Pirates jerseys by team president Frank Coonelly in the on-field ceremony.
At Rangers Ballpark, Gabrielle Tyler, a graduate of Baylor University who serves as president of the Jackie Robinson Foundation Alumni Association, was honored by the club. In addition, the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation is currently sponsoring Makenzie Hodge, a sophomore at Baylor and native of Longview, Texas, with a Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship. Each Rangers player will sign his No. 42 jersey to put on sale, and all players also signed one jersey which will be auctioned off on MLB.com, with the proceeds going to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
At Kauffman Field in Kansas City, Royals Charities presented a $10,000 check to the Jackie Robinson Foundation in a pregame ceremony. The check was accepted by Montoya Lewis, a foundation scholar. The crowd also viewed highlights of Robinson's career on Crown Vision, and players from teams at Van Horn, Northeast and Central high schools circled the field as part of the event. The Royals held a roundtable discussion with Grant and other former players at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Wednesday morning.
At the Metrodome, the Twins showed a Robinson tribute on the video boards and honored four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars: Tasha Byers, Marcus Cox, Lorna Her Many Horses and Charles West. Also, Jennifer Smith of Innovated Business Solutions, which was honored as the Twins' most valuable diverse business partner, threw out a first pitch to Jerry White, the Twins' lone African-American coach.
At Chase Field, the D-backs awarded this year's Arizona Diamondbacks Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award to John Young, the founder of MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. Young threw out the first pitch, which was caught by Tony Clark. Also, Jackie Robinson Foundation scholar Ashly Burch of Glendale, Ariz., was recognized during the ceremony.
At Tiger Stadium, Curtis Granderson took part in an on-field ceremony to honor four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars from the University of Michigan, as well as the six winners of the Tigers' 13th annual Jackie Robinson Art, Essay and Poetry contest.
At Miller Park, public-address announcer Robb Edwards cited Robinson's debut as "a monumental moment for baseball and for civil rights" in his introduction to a video tribute, and the Brewers honored Jackie Robinson scholar Marlo Rodriguez.
At Turner Field, the Braves honored Robinson's legacy with a video tribute. In addition, they recognized a group of 12 college students who have been recognized as Jackie Robinson scholars.
At Safeco Field, Griffey -- the one who started this whole "unretiring" of No. 42 -- helped lead the celebration in Seattle, which included pregame ceremonies that honored Jackie Robinson scholar Kimberly Brown and former Mariners great Edgar Martinez, whose Branded Solutions by Edgar Martinez received the Mariners' first Jackie Robinson Award as the most valuable diverse business partner.
So many years and now generations later, a day of remembrance and a day of honor has become something different for the person closest to the American hero being celebrated.
Rachel Robinson, whose tireless efforts have helped create and maintain the legacy of her husband, looked around the Rotunda at Citi Field and felt right at home, comfortable.
"This is a great day for us," Robinson said. "There's been talk about the challenges that faced us, and the things we've been through. I want you to know that on this day, I feel blessed. I don't feel like I'm a victim of anything. I feel strengthened by the life that we lived."