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Rockies have deep admiration for Robinson

SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu, catcher Jordan Pacheco and relief pitcher Chad Bettis all smiled at the prospect of wearing No. 42 on Tuesday when the Rockies meet the Padres.

For the first time in their careers, they'll be on a big league roster when Major League Baseball commemorates Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1942.

"He took a lot of risks and really made a big sacrifice for a lot of people, and I more than appreciate that," LeMahieu said. "In a game like this, it's cool to be able to honor someone like that."

Pacheco, who played in 132 games in 2012 but was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs just before the annual celebration, said wearing 42 would be an honor. Pacheco noted that veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins -- more on him later -- and others at times during Spring Training asked younger players to look up historical figures to increase their appreciation of the game's history.

"For baseball, this is awesome," Pacheco said. "To be playing this game, you definitely need to know the history of it, those who got the game where it is now."

One of the outgrowths of the celebration is the focus on the declining number of African-American players. In that way, Bettis said he feels fortunate. Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, and traveling around the state on school and club teams, he saw all races represented.

"The city that I grew up in and all the schools that I went to, they were all diverse, so that was never a question," Bettis said. "Our teams were diverse. Even going to play other schools, it was never anything like that."

Rockies veteran Michael Cuddyer has noticed the declining African-American numbers and notes many factors.

Cuddyer pointed out that it could serve baseball to be a little looser with shoes and other adornments, because LeBron James and many basketball players inspire young players because of the gear that they wear.

However, Cuddyer said one of the biggest issues is cost, with diminishing spaces to play informally and the escalation of club travel teams at a young age. Cuddyer sees the money issue having pushed African-Americans out of the sport, but also sees it as threatening Americans of all types while many poor countries, with way less formal systems, have made inroads in producing Major Leaguers.

"There are less places for people to just go play the game -- it's an alarmingly low number of black players but it's an alarming number of young kids not playing," Cuddyer said. "With travel teams, there are fewer pickup games and more official games. I learned more, played more and had more fun in pickup games than I ever did in an organized game."

Pacheco said he has taken it upon himself to do what he can go give kids opportunities in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., to make the game more affordable.

Hawkins, the Rockies' only African-American player, has not seen the progress he would like with the participation issue, but he does like the awareness that has been brought to other players.

"They look forward to Jackie Robinson Day just like we do," Hawkins said. "It started off as only black guys wearing 42, then they made it for everybody, so I like to know how they feel about it."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.
Read More: Colorado Rockies, Jordan Pacheco, Chad Bettis, LaTroy Hawkins, DJ LeMahieu