ST. PETERSBURG -- Sunday at Tropicana Field, the Rays and the Phillies celebrated the 71st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.Jackie Robinson Day is special to the players, all of whom wore No. 42, the number Robinson wore, and the number long ago retired by Major League Baseball.Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sunday at Tropicana Field, the Rays and the Phillies celebrated the 71st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.
Jackie Robinson Day is special to the players, all of whom wore No. 42, the number Robinson wore, and the number long ago retired by Major League Baseball.
Rays outfielder Denard Span noted that every year he gains more of an understanding and also an appreciation about what this day means to the game.
"Not only to myself, but the game in general," Span said. "Just what Jackie sacrificed. Everything that he had to go through. All the barriers that he broke. Just means the world to me to be able to wear this number and this jersey on this day once a year, every year."
Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr said that Robinson's legacy means a lot because of "the things he did."
"He was one of the greats, like Martin Luther King level," Altherr said. "He helped minorities and people of color and African Americans. He made a way for us to have opportunities in this game and it means almost everything to me, especially to play the game on this day."
J.P. Crawford added: "I probably wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for that man's bravery. My dad's black and my mom's white, so it was a big deal in my family. Just having the courage to do what he did. I don't think I'd have the courage. I don't think anyone would but thankfully he did. He changed the world."
Rays manager Kevin Cash said that the "game wouldn't be what it is today without his contributions and probably many others that follow suit."
"The African American, and all races, have impacted this game in such a positive way," Cash said. "There's a good correlation between our stars and their backgrounds. And I think that's what draws so many fans to this game."
Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier noted that it was "always an honor to put 42 on our backs."
"Just seeing where the country was at that point in time," Kiermaier said. "The segregation, and for Jackie to do what he did, on, and off the baseball field was about as courageous as it could be."
As part of Sunday's celebration, the Rays' organization will recognize nine individuals who were selected as 2018 Jackie Robinson Community Champions, each for exemplifying one of Robinson's nine values: Determination, commitment, persistence, integrity, justice, courage, teamwork, citizenship, and excellence.
The Rays also honored the family of U.S. Army Captain Riley Pitts, the first African American commissioned officer to receive the Medal of Honor. Eula Pitts, Captain Pitts' widow, will throw the ceremonial first pitch.
** Bill Chastain ** has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.