Butler's very special Jackie Robinson Day

April 16th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ A’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- As an avid player of the MLB The Show, one of ’s favorite features of the video game has long been its many homages to Jackie Robinson.

On Monday night, he experienced it in real life.

With MLB honoring the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson across the league, Butler participated in his first Jackie Robinson Day as a big leaguer. Before the series opener against the Cardinals, Butler gazed at the blue No. 42 emblazoned on the back of his home white “Athletics” jersey with pride.

“It’s a surreal moment,” Butler said. “I feel like it’s a powerful statement to be able to wear ‘42’ in the big leagues. To be able to honor him, he’s a legend who paved the way for many minorities to play this game. I’m just thankful to be able to wear ‘42’ on this day.”

Nestled inside Butler’s locker in the A’s clubhouse at the Coliseum was a Jackie Robinson-themed brown suitcase filled with swag. The items ranged from a custom pair of shoes and cleats to a letterman jacket and a jersey. There was even a coffee can from Chock full o’Nuts, the company which made Robinson its vice president after his playing career ended, and allowed him to advocate for the Civil Rights Movement.

The special package was sent over by Nike, which signed Butler to an endorsement deal this offseason.

“That’s a dream come true,” Butler said. “Nike has been doing it better than everybody for as long as anybody can remember. They take care of all their athletes very well. Anything we need, they make sure we have it. For Jackie Robinson Day, they gave us some cool kicks. … They always take care of me. I’m just honored to be with Nike.”

Nike flew Butler out to its world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., this past December to sign his deal. Joining him on the trek was Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, who also signed with the company. The three-day trip included a full tour of Nike’s 286-acre campus, as well as courtside seats to a Portland Trail Blazers game.

Both Georgia natives, Butler recalled the first time he watched Walker play baseball. It was in 2020, when a 17-year-old Walker was playing for the 6-4-3 travel ball team, one of the more prominent travel clubs in Georgia. At the time, Butler was already in pro ball entering his third season in the A’s organization.

“Bro looked 30 years old,” Butler joked of seeing Walker. “I thought he was like a 30-year-old. Somebody older than me. I was like, ‘Oh, I guess he’s just trying to get back in baseball.’ I didn’t know he was trying to get on the team. Then, we’re in the season and I hear, ‘Yeah, this 18-year-old has 20 homers!’ I’m like, ‘Who the [heck] is Jordan Walker?’ That was when it kind of clicked for me.”

As both reached the big leagues last season, Butler and Walker have become close. Walker was playing right field in St. Louis when Butler belted a ball over his head for his first career homer last August at Busch Stadium. So, on a day that celebrated Jackie Robinson, who was also a native of Georgia, it was rather fitting that Butler and Walker shared the same field.

“I got to talk to [Jordan] a little bit before the game and chop it up,” Butler said. “Me, him and [Cardinals center fielder] Victor [Scott II] are from Georgia. It was a pretty cool moment to see them out there on the field.”