On the 72nd anniversary of his historic debut, Jackie Robinson will be honored by Major League Baseball in its annual celebration of one of the game’s most revered role models. Today, every player across the big leagues will sport the universally retired No. 42 worn by Robinson throughout his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Growing up a Dodgers fan, I’ve always revered Robinson, not only for his fantastic play on the field but for the tremendous courage he displayed throughout his remarkable life. You can imagine my excitement over Jackie Robinson Day because now is as good a time as any to write an article about a player I’ve idolized since I was a little kid.
I don’t want to spend time telling of Robinson’s spectacular feat in breaking the color line and becoming the first black man to play in Major League Baseball. You’ve heard that story, I’ve heard that story, and you and I both love that story.
Instead, I want to explain that you and I alike have a little bit of Jackie Robinson inside of us and that we can follow the example he set through his conviction and actions of bravery.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Robinson said.
From day one, Robinson understood that his journey to the majors would be laced with obstacles. It was never going to be an easy journey, and it was never supposed to be.
When Robinson visited opposing teams’ stadiums throughout his rookie campaign in 1947, crowds greeted him by booing, spitting at him and calling him a range of despicable names that would strike a nerve with anyone. On the diamond, he was thrown at, cleated and, in one incredibly infamous instance, told to “go back to the cotton fields.”
Robinson’s blood boiled, and his fists clenched with rage. But despite every ounce of frustration that coursed through his body, he never lost sight of the big picture. He understood that by lashing out, he would be giving in. And giving in meant forfeiting his opportunity to make an impact on the lives of others.
Robinson knew of the boys and girls who listened to him play on the radio all across the country, and he knew of the hope he brought them. He knew he could pave a path for his former teammates and other players in the Negro leagues. He knew he had a chance to mobilize his family and provide a future for his children.
With all of this in mind, he kicked the dirt off his cleats, shouldered the hate and fought for what he believed in. Through his courage, Robinson silenced the critics, led a Hall of Fame career and opened doors that had previously been tightly shut.
In 2019, Major League Baseball is composed of men from every background and every corner of the world, all because of one man’s bravery and determination. As professional ballplayers across America honor that man today, you can pay homage to Robinson by embodying the wonderful traits that made him one of our nation’s finest heroes.
Stand firm in your beliefs, even those that may prove unpopular in the eyes of the majority. Commit to a cause greater than yourself, and live in harmony with your countrymen from all walks of life. Look adversity in the eye, overcome it, and show grace and humility when you’ve won.
Every person who has accomplished anything in life has faced many naysayers along the way. With no doubt, you will experience this as well. At this point, you’ll have two choices: You can let them drag you down and thwart your progress, or you can shake their criticisms and fight until you’ve accomplished what they said you couldn’t do.
Jackie Robinson chose the latter option. I hope you do, too.
Joey Patton covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].