Ever since Major League Baseball declared April 15 Jackie Robinson Day back in 2004, the league and the Reds have celebrated the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson in many ways. One of those traditions unique to Cincinnati is the Jackie Robinson Showcase, which returned last weekend as part of the largerSkyline Chili Reds Futures High School Showcase presented by Cincinnati Children’s Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics.
On April 17 and 18, the 10th annual High School Showcase celebrated Jackie Robinson Day by hosting 11 teams from Cincinnati Public Schools for baseball and softball games at the Reds Youth Academy. Players wore No. 42 jerseys in honor of Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
The Reds Community Fund first decided to host a Jackie Robinson Showcase five years ago and provided customized No. 42 jerseys to all teams that participated. Thanks to the RCF’s partnership with Nike, both the Showcase and jersey traditions continue. All teams that played on Saturday and Sunday wore Nike No. 42 jerseys as a tribute to Robinson. Each of the jerseys over the weekend also featured the No. 8 on the sleeve, honoring Hall of Famer and Reds legend, Joe Morgan, who passed away last October.
“Jackie has left an amazing legacy on our game and our country’s culture as a whole,” Reds Youth Academy director Jerome Wright said. “Hosting these high school games and seeing players wearing No. 42 jerseys is just our way of keeping his legacy alive and pushing the game of baseball and softball forward.”
Robinson’s contributions to the game are historic. In addition to breaking baseball’s color barrier and changing the game forever when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, Robinson was also a Hall of Famer. Fifty years following his debut, MLB honored Robinson’s landmark career by retiring his No. 42 across the league. In 2004, MLB officially declared that every April 15 from that year forward would become Jackie Robinson Day, when the league would honor Jackie’s legacy by celebrating his life, values and accomplishments.
The idea of wearing No. 42 stems back to former Reds star Ken Griffey Jr. In 2007, Griffey asked then Commissioner Bud Selig for permission to wear No. 42 on what was the 60th anniversary of the Dodger star’s groundbreaking debut. After confirming the request with Robinson's widow, Selig liked the idea so much that he extended the offer to any other player who wanted to join Griffey. Two years later, the entire league started wearing No. 42, a tradition that continues today in the Majors and has been adopted by the RCF for the annual Showcase.
“The Jackie Robinson Day celebration and events mean so much to Cincinnati Public Schools, our students and our community,” CPS athletics manager Josh Hardin said. “Jackie Robinson’s pivotal role in breaking the color barrier as the first African American Major Leaguer is important to our student athletes, and they embrace being a part of this special event. The Reds Community Fund in partnership with the Reds High School Showcase has continued to elevate this celebration, and we are grateful for their collaboration on this impactful weekend event.”
With the Reds having the day off on April 15, the Jackie Robinson Day festivities were held on April 16, when the team resumed play against Cleveland. Earlier that day, Reds pitcher Amir Garrett and first base coach Delino DeShields participated in a virtual school visit with students-athletes from Clark Montessori High School to discuss Robinson’s impact. At the ballpark, many Reds players wore Players Alliance shirts during batting practice to raise awareness for Jackie Robinson Day.
Some players even donated their game salary to the Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization comprised of active and former Major Leaguers who have united to use their voice and platform to create new opportunities in the Black community in all areas of baseball and society. For the game, all uniformed personnel wore No. 42 jerseys, some players donned special Jackie Robinson socks, and custom bases and lineup cards were used.
To further celebrate Robinson, fans in attendance received a commemorative Jackie Robinson baseball card courtesy of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Limited edition Jackie Robinson Reds hats with a No. 42 patch were produced in partnership with local footwear and clothing retailer, Corporate, and made available for purchase at the Reds Hall of Fame. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
In addition to the Jackie Robinson celebration, the RCF introduced the inaugural Gabby Rodriguez Day at the Reds Youth Academy on April 18. The schedule featured three softball games played in memory of the Western Hills High School student-athlete and former Cincinnati RBI softball player who was struck and killed while crossing Harrison Avenue to catch a bus to school in September 2018.
Since then, the community has rallied around the Rodriguez family to keep Gabby’s legacy alive, working with her parents to raise money and awareness for pedestrian safety as well as for a scholarship in Gabby’s name. On April 3, 2019, “Gabby Rodriguez Field” was dedicated on the campus of Western Hills and Dater High Schools. A flag bearing her No. 13 was also raised and continues to fly, as it did on April 18, 2021, at the Reds Youth Academy.
Just as everyone wore No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson, the softball players’ jerseys also included a No. 13 to honor Rodriguez on Sunday. Gabby would have been a senior on this year’s team, possibly heading to college to continue her career. Her teammates rallied around the Rodriguez family before a convincing victory over Woodward High School.