After historic week, Blue Jays celebrate JRD

August 28th, 2020

The Blue Jays joined the baseball world on Friday in honoring the incredible legacy of Jackie Robinson, a Civil Rights icon and the first Black man to play Major League Baseball when he broke the color barrier on April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Major League Baseball chose to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Aug. 28 for two reasons. It’s the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which the Robinson Family attended, and it is also the date in 1945 when Robinson and Branch Rickey met to discuss his future as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In conjunction with the celebration, MLB announced a partnership extension with the JRF Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Museum and the annual JRF ROBIE Awards. The extension is through 2023 and includes a $3.5 million commitment on behalf of MLB.

This year, Jackie Robinson Day comes after a historic two days in sports, when MLB clubs joined the NBA, WNBA and teams in other professional leagues in choosing not to play, instead focusing their platforms and voices on the ongoing protests against racial injustice and anti-Black violence.

This is a special day for , who the Blue Jays recently acquired in a trade from the Mariners. Walker is the lone African American player on Toronto's current 25-man roster, a situation that has happened before in his career, and he spoke of the need to get more Black athletes involved in the sport overall, from youth levels up, while reflecting on the impact of Robinson’s actions decades ago.

“It means everything,” Walker said. “He definitely paved the way for me to be out here and have the chance to not only come out and pitch every five days, but to also have a platform and to speak on everything that’s going on in the world right now.”

Manager Charlie Montoyo has been encouraged by what he’s seen around the sports world recently and the action that’s been inspired.

“Today, on Jackie Robinson Day, we should focus on the barriers that he broke for baseball and keep having conversations about what’s going on out there,” Montoyo said. “I think it’s great that people are talking about all of this stuff happening outside of baseball.”

For some on this young Blue Jays roster, it will be their first Jackie Robinson Day in the big leagues. Cavan Biggio was part of the conversation in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse on Thursday, when the club decided they were “willing to play,” but later supported the Red Sox, who chose not to.

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Biggio said that was not a reflection of the Blue Jays being numb to what is happening, pointing instead to the continued support he and his teammates have shown to the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing T-shirts in support of that cause daily and continuing to have conversations with one another as well as opponents.

“This is my first time being able to wear No. 42, and it’s a huge honor,” Biggio said. “I’m very excited to do it for the first time tonight. I do think it has more significance. Looking around at the NBA and MLB, games are being missed because of what’s going on. I don’t think that this day can come on a more perfect date.”

Roster moves
The Blue Jays made a handful of roster moves prior to Friday’s opener, adding Walker and Daniel Vogelbach to the active roster after both were acquired recently in separate trades from the Mariners. Sean Reid-Foley and Brandon Drury were optioned back to the alternate training site, with the Drury move being newsworthy as the Blue Jays work to improve their positional depth. Drury was hitting just .152 with a .358 OPS this season and, while the Blue Jays like his glove, his bat wasn’t stacking up. Walker is set to debut Saturday in Buffalo after his intake process was complete quickly.

Injury updates
• Ken Giles (right forearm strain) threw a side session at 80 percent to 85 percent effort, Montoyo said, and came out of it feeling good. That’s big news for the Blue Jays, as his next step is facing hitters in a live BP session. He’s expected to stay with the team for the remainder of his rehab.

• Nate Pearson (right elbow tightness) played catch at 60 feet Friday and is scheduled to throw from 90 feet on Saturday, but there is no timeline for his ramp-up just yet.

• Bo Bichette has been taking light swings off a tee and playing catch, but there is no timeline yet for when he will progress to fielding drills or other full-effort baseball activities.