LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Dodgers players, in full uniforms, walked through the center field gate together on Friday afternoon, gathered around the statue of Jackie Robinson, listened to an impassioned 20-minute speech and took pictures.
They quickly retired to the clubhouse, stripped off their uniforms, and began preparing for their game against the Cincinnati Reds.
A man stayed.
Dodgers All-Star third baseman Justin Turner just wasn’t ready to go.
Turner stayed, talking to anyone who had a camera, notepad, or microphone, and all the while he kept an eye on the man talking to the team.
Finally, he saw an opening.
David Robinson, son of the immortal Jackie Robinson, was alone. Turner rushed over, held out his right hand, and shook it vigorously.
“Thank you for coming,” Turner said. “Thank you. Thank you. It means so much to us.”
They talked for a few minutes. Turner showed off his white uniform top, with “Dodgers” on the front and the number “42” on the back, and told Robinson what it meant to him personally.
“There’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of accountability when you’re wearing that jersey,” Turner told him, adding that “there’s an opportunity to do something special.”
As Turner began to walk away, he asked Robinson if he wanted to step in and play third base of the game.
“Well, not if you’re trying to win,” Robinson, 70, said with a laugh.
Robinson carried his father’s legacy throughout the day on the 75th birthday of Jackie Robinson who broke baseball’s color barrier. He spent Friday morning with Dodgers starter David Price, who read the book “I Am Jackie Robinson” at an elementary school in Pasadena, Calif. David Robinson and Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts spent several hours at Jackie Robinson’s former high school, John Muir, where a mural honoring the baseball great was unveiled. David Robinson then spoke to the entire Dodgers team in front of the Jackie Robinson statue in the afternoon, then escorted his mother onto the field at Dodger Stadium before the game.
Rachel Robinson, the 99-year-old widow of Jackie, rode onto the field on a golf cart where Dodger luminaries and Lakers great Magic Johnson gave her a warm welcome. Several Dodgers players approached to say hello. Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham ran from the dugout to meet her. Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson of the Players Alliance publicly thanked her and presented her with a Jackie Robinson jacket.
The huge crowd gave her several warm and moving ovations, knowing her role in history and the immense impact she had throughout Jackie Robinson’s pioneering journey.
“Every time she’s there, she lights up the whole stadium,” Turner said. “I think a lot of people have talked about Jackie and what he’s been through and all the things he’s done, but I don’t think she got enough credit for going through it with him. “
The last time Rachel and Jackie Robinson were together on a baseball diamond, Jackie was giving a speech before Game 2 of the 1972 World Series. see a black man as a coach.
Jackie Robinson died nine days later – three years before Frank Robinson became the first black manager in baseball history.
Now here is Rachel, looking into the Dodgers dugout and seeing Dave Roberts – the first black manager in franchise history.
“It’s moving when I let my mind go,” Roberts said. “Jackie wanted above all to move forward. So appreciating how far we’ve come is certainly right, but more importantly, it’s where we need to go.
“It’s what drives us and challenges us all, to keep improving and making changes.”
Major League Baseball has certainly made progress, but there’s still a lot of work to do, with a declining black population of just 6.8% of players, just two black managers, and a black man in charge of baseball operations.
It’s no different from society, says David Robinson, citing inequality in job opportunities, wages, education and the justice system.
“Let’s ask ourselves: ‘Where have we been as a nation over the past 75 years?’ “, Robinson said. “Did we really come together? Have we really created equality? Is there a sustainable job in gainful employment that all Americans are capable of obtaining? Are we united as a nation and then strengthened by this unity? Are we in sync with our world neighbors? What is the African-American position? What is our plan for survival and self-development?
“These are the questions [Jackie] would ask if he were here today, because these issues are still on the table of challenges facing America today.
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Robinson spoke for 20 minutes, allowing the Dodgers to digest every word. Just like his father, they don’t have to be just baseball players either. They can help make a difference.
“I believe Jackie Robinson would say that we will make progress when we create a plan as a people, think as a people, collect our resources as a people, and then integrate that plan into American development and integrate that plan into the global development,” David says Robinson.
“There are things we need to do together as a nation. There are things that African Americans are going to have to take on our own shoulders to represent our own interests. We must develop our economic, social and political integration on a global scale for our own benefit in order to contribute to the development of mankind.”
Roberts, who pulled out all the uniformed players to listen to Robinson, nodded in agreement. He has a platform himself and is scolding MLB for shortening the draft to 20 rounds, believing it will have a huge impact on whether black kids reach the big leagues. He reminded everyone that he was a 28th round pick who ended up having a 10-year major league career. He even made a statement by his dress on Friday, wearing socks with a photo of Robinson’s face in a Dodger uniform, with shoes that read, “We rise together.”
“Baseball…it’s bigger than us individually,” Roberts said, “so we all have a platform and an opportunity and a responsibility, as David said today. If I have the opportunity or a platform to talk about things I believe in that are right and treat people fairly so why wouldn’t I take advantage of it because I encourage my players to talk about things they believe in. .
“I think we have to keep challenging each other.”
It was a powerful message that Robinson delivered to the Dodgers and anyone who would listen. It’s not enough just to celebrate the 75th birthday of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and everyone wearing No. 42. Jackie was so much more than just a ballplayer.
“When you hear it coming from family and experiences and what they’ve been through,” Turner said, “it’s kind of special. You know the whole story, but it’s a different perspective, a lot heavier coming from David.
“Just standing here in front of the statue, spreading enlightenment to all that Jackie and her family have been through, changing the course of the country, changing the direction of the country and creating opportunity for so many people , is truly a lesson in humility.’ ‘
The 75th anniversary celebration will be over on Saturday morning, with Robinson and his mother due to fly to New York, but Robinson hopes his words will be forever remembered by the Dodgers, leaving a lasting impact.
“You have to keep the faith,” Robinson said. “That was one of the victories of 1947, to build the spirit, the confidence, the self-identity in the African American and change the image of identity in America. So , you have to take that spirit. Take that faith. Take those traits that have been developed and put them into a practical and achievable plan.
“Keeping the faith and having the spirit is a good thing, but if it’s not inside a plan, it really doesn’t get very far.”
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