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Civil Rights Game on Jackie's day unites MLB

Annual celebration moved up to April 15 anniversary of breaking the color barrier

The memory of Jackie Robinson is alive and well today, as Major League Baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers presented the Civil Rights Game on a hallowed sporting anniversary: Jackie Robinson Day.

The Civil Rights Game, baseball's annual celebration of the people who helped usher in a new era of social progress in this country, was held on April 15, the very day that Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, and it was held not far from where the sporting and civil rights icon grew up.

Robinson, born in Cairo, Ga., moved to Pasadena, Calif., when he was still a child, and he prospered and eventually graduated from local John Muir High School. Robinson enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles and later enlisted in the Army before finding fame on the baseball field.

Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947, was posthumously honored by MLB as the only player whose number is retired throughout the league. Nobody can wear No. 42 anymore, except on April 15, when all on-field personnel wear Robinson's trusty number.

The Civil Rights Game, entering its ninth season, was created to honor Robinson's legacy along with the countless other trailblazers who helped spark a revolution of societal change. The Dodgers hosted the game for the first time, and they played in it for the second time. Their opponent in Wednesday's 5-2 victory was the Mariners, who participated in their first Civil Rights Game.

Houston hosted the Civil Rights Game last year, and several other cities have had the honor in seasons past. Memphis, Tenn., hosted the first two editions of the Civil Rights Game, both exhibition games. Cincinnati hosted it twice (2009 and '10), followed by Atlanta ('11 and '12) and Chicago.

And while much of the celebration took place on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, there were other key parts of the special event. Tuesday afternoon brought a youth clinic to Rancho Cienega Sports Complex, and four former Dodgers were on hand for the event.

There was also a roundtable discussion about baseball and the civil rights movement Wednesday, an event moderated by Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree. Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, was an important part of the panel discussion.

Billy Bean, MLB's ambassador for inclusion, was also part of that panel, as was Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first African-American manager in the history of the Major Leagues. Also today, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Dolores Huerta were honored with a Beacon Award.

Huerta, an early member of the United Farm Workers, is a famed labor leader and civil rights activist who has previously been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Johnson, one of the greatest players in the history of the National Basketball Association, is a successful businessman and philanthropist who is now involved in baseball as a partner with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Both Johnson and Huerta were part of the panel discussion and were celebrated in a pregame ceremony at Dodger Stadium. Frank Robinson was also recognized with a special award that commemorates the 40th anniversary of his becoming the league's first African-American manager.

Los Angeles and Seattle played in front of a packed house that was expected to include MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel, will be at Dodger Stadium to commemorate the occasion. Robinson, along with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, participated in the pregame first-pitch ceremony. Even the national anthem -- sung by singer and actor Tyrese Gibson -- had a special feel.

Robinson has a stadium named after him on the campus of UCLA, just 17 miles from Dodger Stadium, but his memory will be everywhere today. He'll be celebrated all around baseball, but more importantly, the cause he championed is the guest of honor at Dodger Stadium.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for
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