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Jackie Robinson 'space' jersey lands at NLBM

@FlannyMLB
March 29, 2019

KANSAS CITY -- The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will have an incredible new piece to display when it opens a new exhibit next month called “Barrier Breaking:” A Jackie Robinson jersey that has flown through space. The story starts with Col. Terry Virts, an astronaut who flew on expedition No.

KANSAS CITY -- The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum will have an incredible new piece to display when it opens a new exhibit next month called “Barrier Breaking:” A Jackie Robinson jersey that has flown through space.

The story starts with Col. Terry Virts, an astronaut who flew on expedition No. 42 (fitting as that was Jackie Robinson’s number) onto the Space Station in 2014-15.

Virts, an avid baseball fan, was given the jersey years ago by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He then got the idea to wear it in space.

“I couldn’t think of any place more fitting for this uniform to go than here,” Virts said while standing inside the museum, “just to show kids how far we’ve come in the last few decades.”

Getting the jersey to space was a process.

“You have to pack it up months in advance,” Virts said, “and then there’s all the processing, then it goes up by rocket and we grab it by mechanical arms in space. Then it goes back to Earth, through re-entry, crashes in the ocean, and then magically it ends back up on my desk in a zip-loc bag.”

NLBM president Bob Kendrick said he was thrilled to be able to display the jersey.

“To think this piece went to the outer rail, and what a great way to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson,” Kendrick said. “It speaks to Terry embracing the important role that Jackie played in baseball, but also our nation’s history. It’s another opportunity to trumpet where Jackie got started, right here in Kansas City.”

Virts tweeted out a photo of him wearing the jersey while in space in 2015.

“The picture is of me in the uniform and holding a baseball,” Virts said, “well, that baseball was actually signed by Nolan Ryan, so that’s pretty cool, too.”

Virts was on board the Space Station with three cosmonauts, so it took him a while to explain the significance of the jersey.

“Not just that,” Virts said, “but try to explain the infield fly rule to a Russian.”

Virts, 51, grew up in Maryland and he was a huge Orioles fan. He now lives in Houston and he has adopted the Astros.

“I loved Jackie and Hank Aaron and Brooks Robinson, and the history of the game,” he said. “Just a big fan of baseball. It’s humbling to present something that is associated with Jackie Robinson. It’s so far above me, just to be involved with a hero like that.

“He went so far, and we still have a long way to go. But I can’t imagine he ever imagined this jersey would end up in space.”

While he was in space, Virts also was associated with MLB in the program #ISSPlayBall and tried to take pictures of every stadium as the station circled the Earth.

“Kansas City [Kauffman Stadium] was hard to find,” Virts said, laughing. “The teams on the coast are easy.”

Giving the jersey, a replica 1949 uniform of Robinson’s, to the NLBM seemed like an easy decision, Virts said.

“It would have just ended up in a box,” he said, “and my kids would have something else to deal with later on. This is a great home for it.”

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.