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Dodgers celebrate Jackie's legacy at '42' screening

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's one of the most anticipated films to be released this spring and on Monday night more than 300 members of the Dodger family, including Major and Minor League players, coaches, staff and their families came to the AMC Westgate 20 Theatres in Glendale, Ariz., for a private screening of "42," which chronicles how Jackie Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey and broke Major League Baseball's color barrier when he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute.

"In Spring Training we always look for activities and typically your activity is divided by Major League and Minor League activities," said Dodgers general manager, Ned Colletti, who, along with the Dodgers' director of baseball administration, Ellen Harrigan, organized the screening with Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the studio and production company that is releasing the film nationwide on April 12. "With the historic significance of what Jackie did, the idea of bringing everybody into one theater, especially this theater here in Glendale that has been great to us, that we can fill it with Dodger personnel -- young and old, Major League and Minor League -- was a goal and when we had the opportunity, we decided to go after it."

The Dodgers asked center fielder, Matt Kemp to play host for the screening. Kemp, who recently wore a Dodger jersey with the No. 42 on it, as a tribute to Robinson while serving as grand marshal of the Kingdom Day parade in Los Angeles this past January, was pleased that the event went so well.

"It certainly was a thrill to walk into a movie theater and see it filled with 350 familiar faces, Minor Leaguers, Major Leaguers, front office people. It was amazing to see so many people come out to support this," said Kemp, who mingled and chatted a number of players before the film began. "I definitely learned a lot tonight from things I didn't know about Jackie Robinson. I'm sure many people learned just as much as me. I kinda looked around the theater and saw everyone was as glued to the screen as I was and I think everyone enjoyed the movie."

"It was cool being around the guys, watching this movie," said Dodger outfielder Carl Crawford after the screening. "You get to learn the history of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson. Because I'm an African-American player, I got to learn about how some of the doors got open for me."

For one of the guests in attendance, Jackie Robinson's bravery had a direct impact on his own life and career.

"It actually brought tears to my eyes. I was living a lot of that movie," said former National League MVP and Dodger legend, Maury Wills, who, at age 80, still serves as a bunting and base running instructor every spring with the Dodgers. "I knew Jackie personally. I barnstormed with him in 1953 when I was in the Minor Leagues. We would tour the South after the season and he paid me $300 for the month. I would have done it for nothing. I got to know him, he was a no-nonsense person, nice man, stern, firm -- he would check the bus every night to make sure we were all there as we went from one city to another. It was quite an experience.

"I don't know many other people who could have survived the way Jackie did, to come out on the other end. I knew this film was well put together and I enjoyed it."

There are more screenings of the film for teams in both the Grapefruit and Cactus League in the next two weeks, but the first screening went to the team, whose uniform a true American legend wore to change history forever.

Ben Platt is a national correspondent for
Read More: Los Angeles Dodgers, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp