LOS ANGELES -- No team is linked closer to Jackie Robinson than the Dodgers, and on Jackie Robinson Day, Matt Kemp celebrated the Hall of Fame trailblazer in a personal way.Long before the gates opened on Sunday, Kemp went up to the reserved level at Dodger Stadium for his first
LOS ANGELES -- No team is linked closer to Jackie Robinson than the Dodgers, and on Jackie Robinson Day, Matt Kemp celebrated the Hall of Fame trailblazer in a personal way.
Long before the gates opened on Sunday, Kemp went up to the reserved level at Dodger Stadium for his first up-close look at the statue of Robinson that was unveiled on this day last year.
"It's amazing," said Kemp, who began his second stint with the Dodgers this season. "Very detailed with some of his best quotes throughout his life, and very motivating. I got to hang out with the statue."
Sunday marked the 71st anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. As has been tradition each April 15, the Dodgers and MLB celebrated with all players and on-field personnel wearing Jackie's iconic No. 42. For 2018, there were additional on-field uniform elements, including a commemorative patch on all team caps and jersey sleeves, socks emblazoned with "42," and a brand new lightweight hooded fleece for batting practice and dugout wear, also featuring the 42 logo.
"I think it's a great way to honor one of the pioneers of not just baseball, but the Civil Rights movement," D-backs infielder Daniel Descalso said. "I think it's great the way Major League Baseball does that, and we're all lucky that we get a chance to wear No. 42 for a day."
In addition, the Dodgers gave away a replica No. 42 jersey presented by Bank of America to the first 40,000 ticketed fans in attendance for Sunday's Dodgers-D-backs game. Pregame ceremonies included current and former Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars, while students from Robinson's high school, John Muir High School, who attended the game as part of the Kids 4 Dodgers Baseball initiative, and students from Robinson's elementary school, Cleveland Elementary School in Pasadena, Calif., participated in Kids Take the Field presented by 99 Cents Only Stores. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by former Jackie Robinson scholar, Brian Nelson, who currently serves as LA 2028's chief legal officer, chief compliance officer, corporate secretary and board member. The legendary Don Newcombe, a teammate of Robinson with the Dodgers and in the Negro League, was also honored. Newcombe was sitting next to Frank Robinson, who was the first African-American manager in the Majors.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship Program provides four years of financial assistance and direct program services annually to 225 highly motivated students attending 100 colleges and universities across the country, and has developed a mentoring curriculum to reach a broad range of college students beyond its core "JRF Scholars." The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) is a public, non-profit organization that perpetuates the memory of Jackie Robinson by giving a four-year scholarship in his name and providing leadership development for minority college students as well as through building the Jackie Robinson Museum. The museum, will commemorate the life of Jackie Robinson as an athlete, activist and icon, illuminating his long-lasting impact across society through state-of-the-art exhibits, precious artifacts, film and other media. The National Jackie Robinson Museum Legacy Campaign has raised over $25 million and the museum is set to open in 2019.
Jerry Hairston Jr., a third-generation Major Leaguer and part of the Dodgers broadcasting team, asked a rhetorical question when interviewed by Alanna Rizzo for a SportsNet LA pre-game special: "What if Jackie Robinson had failed? My grandfather probably wouldn't have played. Jackie made a huge step up for all of us and did it with class."
Because Robinson broke baseball's color barrier with the Dodgers, the only club for which he played, the Dodgers always have a home game on April 15.
"We were here last year, too, which was special," D-backs reliever Archie Bradley said. "To get to be here playing against the team where everything started for him is amazing. Everyone says it every year, but every year when you get older, at least for me, you understand it more and more and you understand the importance of it. He basically put his life on the line to play a game and set up the future. Look at where we are now, and we wouldn't be there without him."
Earlier in the week, the Dodgers hosted a "Breaking Barriers" panel for local area high school students, in which manager Dave Roberts participated. A reading event was held at a local elementary school with Dodgers alumni Al Downing and Dennis Powell discussing Robinson's legacy and how he affected their careers.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.