Astros manager grateful for impact legend has had on his life
HOUSTON -- For Astros manager Bo Porter, the opportunity to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson goes beyond getting the chance to wear the legend's No. 42 jersey once a year. Porter tries to remind himself constantly of Robinson's impact on the game of baseball and his life.
As an African-American manager, Porter fully understands he wouldn't be where he is today had Robinson not broken the color barrier when he took the field for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
The Astros joined the rest of baseball in donning Robinson's retired No. 42 for Tuesday's game against the Royals.
"It's not something that I woke up today and decided to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day," Porter said. "It's an everyday appreciation. For him to be the first and handle it the way in which he handled it, it allowed me to come after him. "
The Astros hosted a Jackie Robinson Day reception at Minute Maid Park prior to Tuesday's game against the Royals in which Porter, coaches Tarrick Brock and Pat Listach and players Chris Carter, Dexter Fowler, L.J. Hoes and Jerome Williams attended. Porter and Shawn Taylor, who's part of the Astros' ownership group, spoke at the event while addressing a group of kids from the Houston Urban Youth Academy.
They both spoke about the sacrifices Robinson made and the hurdles he had to overcome to become the first black player in the Majors.
"It's probably the greatest day in baseball history," Porter said. "I think you look at not only his accomplishments, but the circumstances in which he had to deal with in order to play day in and day out. When you start to think about the mental strain and the death threats, I don't think anyone can put into words psychologically the effect that it would have on a person. For him to be able to block all that out and go out and perform the way he performed, it's remarkable."
Williams said wearing No. 42 is always an honor, and recalled a part in the movie "42" in which Robinson said he one day hoped all players could wear it.
"Look now," said Williams, who wore the number while playing in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico. "For the last five or six years, everybody wears 42. That's the kind of legacy he left."
Listach, in his first year on the coaching staff, has a unique tie to Robinson. His grandfather, Nora Listach, played against Robinson while playing center field for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues in the 1940s. His grandfather would tell Listach stories of Negro Leagues stars like Satchel Paige, Buck O'Neil and Josh Gibson while encouraging him to play the game.
In 1992, Listach won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, which is named after Robinson.
"I remember grandfather saying, 'I barnstormed the Negro Leagues because the color of my skin,'" he said. "Hopefully, what Jackie did has opened doors, not only just baseball, but in every aspect of life. There's an open door everywhere now. You can't discriminate, or you're not supposed to. He had a real big impact on my life, and it's an honor. "
Taylor threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Tuesday's game wearing a No. 42 Astros jersey. It was an honor for someone who became a successful businessman after growing up in the projects on the south side of Chicago. And he wasn't a White Sox fan. He cheered for the Cubs because his grandfather used to take him to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the Cardinals, the team his grandfather grew up cheering for in Alabama.
"He loved the Cardinals because of the black players on the Cardinals," Taylor said. "I just remember growing up in the projects and then to sit behind the dugout as an owner and how much that meant. Fast-forward to today with Jackie Robinson Day, and that was the genesis of it all."
At one time, Taylor owned 33 Taco Bell restaurants in the Houston area and wound up selling the remaining 27 he owned in 2007. He now is a partner in the ownership of three Zaxby's restaurants in the area.
"I've had a lot of success in business and quite frankly I have to admit that I'm pretty sure that of the barriers that have been knocked down over the decades, it started with what he was able to accomplish with the Dodgers," Taylor said.
Porter credits his high school coach in Newark, N.J., Bill Hicks, for introducing him to the story of Robinson.
"He was a history buff and would talk to us about Jackie Robinson and the sacrifices in which he paved for us to have the opportunity we have today," said Porter, who was honored in 2001 as the Rangers' Jackie Robinson Award nominee and got to meet Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter.
Fowler wore No. 24 throughout his career -- he wears No. 21 with the Astros because 24 is retired -- for his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr., but the chance to don 42, even for one day, was even more special.
"It's retired for a reason," he said. "It's an honor to wear it. It only marks one day and you wish you could wear it for the whole full season."