Jackie Robinson inspires White Sox

Written By BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter Posted: 04/15/2014, 11:43am
Array White Sox players and coaches all wear the number 42 in commemoration of Jackie Robinson Day at U.S. Cellular Field Sunday, April 15, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson knows what Jackie Robinson meant to African Americans like him. But a look around any baseball clubhouse today reminds him about what Robinson meant to the game.

‘‘You have to think about it in that context,’’ Steverson said. ‘‘Seeing the diversity in the game now — Cubans, players from the Dominican Republic, Panama, the world. The opportunity wouldn’t have been there without Branch Rickey and the Dodgers allowing Jackie Robinson to be the first [player of color] and maybe the strongest to play this game.’’

Every team will pay homage Tuesday to what Brooklyn Dodgers president Rickey and Robinson did on April 15, 1947. Major League Baseball has held Jackie Robinson Day every season since 2004 to mark the anniversary, with every player wearing Robinson’s No. 42.

That number has been retired for every team since 1997, except for the players who were wearing it at the time. The last was New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who took it off for the last time when he retired after last season.

Players and former players of every background know Robinson’s story, and the 2013 movie ‘‘42’’ had a big impact on many of them.

‘‘That movie gave an insight into the things he had to endure,’’ Sox coach Daryl Boston said. ‘‘We all knew, but seeing it on the big screen, it was well-done.

‘‘My father played in the Negro Leagues. . . . He would tell stories. He kept telling us he wanted to go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City if it was the last thing he did. It was something we planned a few years ago, and we got to do it last year. It was a great experience.’’

Sox infielder Marcus Semien, 23, remembers the book report he wrote in eighth grade about the Negro Leagues and Robinson.

‘‘I try to educate myself on as much as I can and did anything I could to educate myself on where a lot of my ancestors came from during that time, and the connection to baseball is really interesting to me,’’ he said. ‘‘I know Jackie Robinson was a man with a lot of courage and a lot of heart. It took a lot of that to be able to show up and hold your own. To be able to focus on baseball, that’s hard enough. Dealing with all the stuff that was going on at that time, he did a great job and opened a lot of doors for everyone.

‘‘I have a whole lot of respect for him and a whole lot of respect for these players who open these doors for us. Even talking to [former Sox outfielder] Minnie Minoso, he was another guy who played in the Negro Leagues and played in the major leagues, as well. Just to be able to focus on the game and play at such a high level, it’s amazing.’’

That element of Robinson’s character is what Sox reliever Donnie Veal thinks about.

‘‘I couldn’t imagine going through that, all the hardships and ridicule,’’ he said. ‘‘And you still have to perform every day because it’s all riding on you. . . . It’s amazing he was able to do it.’’

NOTE: The White Sox signed veteran reliever Frank Francisco and assigned him to Class AAA Charlotte. Francisco, 34, has a 3.94 ERA and 73 saves in nine seasons. He pitched in eight games last season for the New York Mets after recovering from elbow surgery.

Email: tginnetti@suntimes.com

Twitter: @toniginnetti

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