JRD an 'important day for baseball & country'

August 29th, 2020

BOSTON -- A day after they decided unanimously not to play baseball in support of teammate Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox were back on the field Friday night as all of MLB paid tribute to pioneer and Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson Day is typically on April 15, but there were no games on that date this year due to the season being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Major League Baseball chose to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Aug. 28 this season for two reasons. It’s the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which the Robinson Family attended, and it also is the date in 1945 when Robinson and Branch Rickey met to discuss his future as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Given the solidarity baseball and other sports have showed the last couple of days to sit out games in the wake of police shooting a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis., the timing of recognizing Robinson and all he stood for seemed fitting.

“I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to point to Jackie Robinson’s debut as possibly if not probably the most significant day in baseball history because of what it meant not just for the game, but also for the country,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I think now is also a really good time to kind of get beyond the short, kind of kids book version of Jackie Robinson’s story and recognize his story was not just about breaking a color line in baseball.

“It was also about very strong, very passionate, very uncompromising stances on some of these issues that are unfortunately still with us today and we need to shine a light on those too. The events unfortunately in this country have done a lot to shine a light on that.

“We need to make sure if we’re upholding the legacy of Jackie Robinson that we don’t run from those things that may not fit neatly on the pages of a children’s book, but are still really, really important nonetheless. I’m hoping the confluence of all these events will give us space as a game to do that.”

During pregame ceremonies for Friday’s game at Fenway Park against the Nationals, the Red Sox paid tribute with a video highlighting Robinson’s legacy just before the anthem. Included was a passionate speech Robinson gave on the crossroads America faced regarding social justice. The speech was from June 15, 1964 in St. Augustine, Fla.

They also had Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars participate in the virtual first pitch ceremony and say, “Play Ball” just minutes before the game started.

In conjunction with the celebration, MLB announced a partnership extension with the JRF Scholarship Program, the Jackie Robinson Museum and the annual JRF ROBIE Awards. The extension is through 2023 and includes a $3.5 million commitment on behalf of MLB.

Coming up through the Dodgers organization as a player and later as a coach, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke is well-versed on all things Jackie Robinson.

“It’s an important day for baseball obviously and I think an important day for this country. And like I said yesterday, we’re still not there,” said Roenicke. “To think about what Jackie went through when he first came into MLB, I can’t even imagine somebody going through what he went through.

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“I know his teammates tried to back him in a lot of that, but I know how difficult those situations would have been in that time in our country and it’s been huge for not just the progression of baseball and whether it’s Black players or whether it’s with all the international players we have now with this country and where we’ve come from.

“We are a lot better off, no question, than when Jackie first came into the Major Leagues. We still have obviously quite a ways to go. It’s a time that’s important to celebrate and hopefully with what happened the last couple of days, we’ll still be able to focus on Jackie and what he meant to baseball.”