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Jackie's legacy at heart of Pitch 42 initiative

Foundation honors players committed to newly launched scholarship program

NEW YORK -- Veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins remembers the days from his childhood when his grandfather would preach to him about the best player to ever play the game of baseball: Jackie Robinson. Years later, Hawkins made sure to pass that on to the next generation in the form of his daughter.

Speaking at a Jackie Robinson Foundation event Tuesday night in New York City, Hawkins recalled an exchange he had with his daughter, Troi, during his 2008 stint with the Yankees.

"All the Yankees, they talk about Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth, Babe Ruth," Hawkins said. "And my daughter came and got in the car one night and she's like, 'Babe Ruth, dad. Babe Ruth is the greatest ballplayer that ever lived.' I pumped the brakes right there and almost stopped, and I turned around and said, 'No, Jackie Robinson was. From this day forward, we're going to do our homework on Jackie Robinson.'"

Through the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and his more recent commitment to the Pitch 42 initiative, Hawkins has attempted to further spread the word on Robinson's contributions, not just to baseball, but to society as a whole. He was on hand Tuesday night, alongside four-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson, as the Jackie Robinson Foundation honored both players, as well as the other 14 Major League players who have committed to Pitch 42.

In honor of the its 40th anniversary, the Jackie Robinson Foundation this year launched the Pitch 42 program, which is a scholarship initiative led by professional athletes who intend to uphold and honor Robinson's legacy.

Despite being in the early stages of development, the Pitch 42 campaign already has received commitments from a number of current and former big leaguers, including: Hawkins, Hudson, Carl Crawford, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp, David Price, Jimmy Rollins, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Vernon Wells, Jerome Williams, Edwin Jackson, Michael Bourn and Royce Clayton. A number of other Major League figures have made contributions to the Foundation's mission as well, including Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter, Brad Ziegler and Dusty Baker.

Tuesday's event, however, was geared toward thanking the Pitch 42 contributors and honoring some of this year's scholarship recipients.

For the 2013-14 academic year, the Jackie Robinson Foundation is supporting 201 college scholars and grad students at more than 80 colleges and universities across the country. The Pitch 42 campaign is a major part of that, with each of the involved Major Leaguers making a four-year commitment to the program, at which time each player is assigned a specific scholar for the duration of that student's collegiate career.

"We're excited about this Pitch 42 program," said Della Britton Baeza, president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. "We are thrilled with how far it's come already and to be able to talk today about this program that enlists members of professional sports teams, not just in baseball, but also basketball and football so far."

For Hudson, the program presented the perfect opportunity for him to show gratitude for one of his biggest role models. After all, Hudson said, Robinson provided hope to American youth far beyond the baseball diamond, and that's exactly what Pitch 42 aims to do, as well.

"It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of 42. I'm so touched to be a part of it with so many great athletes, and I'm sure it will only keep getting bigger," Hudson said. "Jackie opened the door, not just for baseball, but he opened the door for many different ethnic backgrounds in jobs, period. It wasn't just sports. He changed it all."

Hawkins, too, is proud to be associated with the organization dedicated to honoring the man that his grandfather boasted about all those years ago. Currently a free agent, Hawkins laughed and answered with a simple, "I don't know yet," when asked where he'd be playing next year. As he reiterated many times, however, he's just thankful that Robinson provided him with the opportunity to play at all.

"Ballplayers today, if we could just each take a piece of Jackie and what he showed throughout his life and the way he's touched the world after his death -- this world would definitely be a better place," Hawkins said. "I owe everything to Jackie.

"I'm happy to be a part of anything that has the No. 42 attached to it. That's just how it is."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.

LaTroy Hawkins, Orlando Hudson