Robinsons honored at 92nd All-Star Game

July 20th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- A life lived has to be pretty special in order for a stadium full of people to wish you a happy birthday.

For Rachel Robinson, the widow of the first Black player in the Major Leagues who has spent nearly half a century putting young minority students through college with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, that type of celebration is more than fitting.

On Tuesday night, as part of the opening ceremony for the 92nd annual All-Star Game, Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts gathered the entirety of the American League and National League All-Star teams in front of home plate and took the microphone to address a sold-out crowd of 52,518 at Dodger Stadium, as well as the millions of people watching at home.

"I know this is the 2022 All-Star Game, but today is a special day," Betts said to his home crowd. "It's Miss Rachel Robinson's 100th birthday. So on the count of three, I want everybody in here to say, 'Happy birthday, Rachel.'"

A rousing chorus of baseball fans happily obliged. With the Dodgers hosting the All-Star Game for the first time in 42 years, special attention was paid to honoring the lives and legacies of the couple that perhaps most helped to change the landscape of the game for the better.

Moments earlier, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington took the field wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers No. 42 uniform to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947.

As a video tribute played on the center-field scoreboards, Washington spoke about how Jackie's unique combination of talent and character made him both a larger-than-life figure and the ultimate example.

"He said that life is not a spectator sport, and he lived that motto to the fullest," Washington said. "Whether it was charging down the baselines or standing tall for opportunity and justice, No. 42 blazed a trail that would light the way for people of every walk of life and every color -- and to this very day -- every generation. That inspiration -- that profound impact -- looms just as large today as it did 75 years ago."

After the first inning, Rachel received her own video tribute, which was voiced by Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer. Spencer detailed how, after Jackie died in 1972, Rachel took charge of the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation, which built more than 1,300 affordable housing units for people of moderate and low incomes, as well as how the foundation has provided scholarships to more than 1,400 college students.

"His trial was her trial. His pain was her pain. In 1948, Jackie called her, 'The most important and helpful and encouraging person I've ever known in my life,'" Spencer said. "When Rachel was asked about Jack's legacy, she recalled his words that are etched into his statue, 'A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.' She's a reminder of how far we have traveled and how far we have yet to go. She defines the power of 'we.' We are better because of Rachel Robinson."

Separately, former President Bill Clinton, who was on the field at Shea Stadium in New York with Rachel Robinson when Jackie’s No. 42 was retired in 1997, sent along a video message wishing her a happy 100th.

“Over the course of your remarkable life, you've been a constant source of inspiration,” Clinton said. “Not just in carrying on Jackie's legacy, but continuing to open doors of opportunities for new generations through your charitable work. I'll never forget standing with you on the 50th anniversary of Jackie's breaking the color barrier, and I'm grateful for the many kindnesses you've given me since.”

The Robinsons weren't the only ones who earned recognition before and during the game. Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela, who appeared in six consecutive All-Star Games, won a World Series ring and captured the NL Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Award in 1981, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to an L.A. faithful that clearly remembered how "Fernandomania" swept the sport four decades ago.

Blue Jays All-Star Alejandro Kirk, the first Mexican-born catcher to be selected to the Midsummer Classic, caught his countryman's pitch. Meanwhile, Jaime Jarrín, the Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster who will be retiring at the end of this season -- his 64th in the booth -- received an acknowledgement at the end of the fourth inning.

Another pair of celebrities took the field at Dodger Stadium during the star-studded festivities. Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning singer, songwriter and actor Ben Platt gave a rousing performance of the national anthem. And actor Miles Teller, who starred in the No. 1 film of the year "Top Gun: Maverick," joined the four fighter jet pilots from the F-22 Combined Test Force out of Edwards Air Force Base in California on the field in the sixth inning, after they took part in the traditional flyover during the anthem.

Also of note, Boys & Girls Clubs of America "Youth of the Year" Brianna (from Bristol, Conn.) delivered the game's first ball to the mound shortly after Betts led Rachel's birthday celebration.

That moment is what he felt most proud to be a part of during a big night for the franchise he represents, as they honored one of the game's greats on one of the sport's biggest stages.

"[It was] very special. Being able to say happy birthday personally is very special," Betts said. "I'm just glad everybody joined in."