I was 9 when I first learned about Jackie Robinson. My family owned a series of hard-cover books published by Value Communications. Each book celebrated a different person whose life illustrated a noteworthy value. Hans Christian Anderson and fantasy. Beethoven and giving. Marie Curie and learning.
Written by Dr. Spencer Johnson, Jackie’s story taught the value of courage. I started reading the book one night before bed and became completely obsessed with it. The book stayed next to my bed for weeks. I’ve been drawn to Jackie’s story ever since.
Jackie courageously dared to keep playing baseball through countless death threats, antagonistic opponents, ambivalent teammates, opposing pitchers who sought to knock his head off, and hotels and restaurants who denied him service in every city. Words cannot effectively capture the degree of hatred and animosity Jackie experienced. Even so, Jackie played with a perpetual chip on his shoulder determined to prove that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Through baseball and his civil rights work, Jackie truly made this world a better place.
Last summer, as part of Catch 365, my family visited Jackie Robinson Ballpark, the home of the Daytona Tortugas. On March 17, 1946, this field in Daytona Beach, Florida was the first venue to host an integrated game as part of affiliated baseball. Jackie then played for the AAA Montreal Royals and wore number 9. Each year, every major league baseball team honors Jackie by wearing his Dodgers number 42. The Tortugas celebrate — shellebrate — by wearing number 9.
I wrote a poem about Jackie and keep it on my desk in the Royals room. It serves not only as a reminder of his remarkable courage and passionate perseverance, but that baseball stories can make a difference in this world. The ripple effect of his story opened doors from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to President Barack Obama.
Long Ball City is celebrating one of Jackie’s most famous quotes on a t-shirt honoring the legacy of #42. This quote should be a mantra for each and every one of us.
This year, however, I’m leaning into a different quote from Jackie.
“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”
I think, if I had the opportunity to sit down with Jackie and tell him about my desire to play ball again, he’d probably get a good laugh. But it’s because of Jackie that I know baseball stories can make a difference in this world.
Take courage, friends.