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Jackie Robinson Day, April 15: A fan’s perspective
Jackie Robinson, one of America's greatest sports heroes, is honored by MLB on April 15 each year. Robinson was the first African-American player to play in MLB.
After years of segregation, allowed only to play in the Negro Leagues, Robinson broke the color line when he started for the then Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. The April 15 date celebrates that historic opening day, April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y.
I'm proud it was my favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers and their owner Walter O'Malley, that had the courage to start Robinson and change baseball forever.
Starting in 2004, MLB has celebrated Jackie Robinson Day across the league. Major League Baseball players wear his number 42 on that day. To me and thousands of other Dodger fans, Robinson, a World War II veteran, was exhibiting as much courage at that moment as any soldier who goes into actual combat.
However, as time goes by, Jackie Robinson's heroic contribution to America's game and racial equality may not seem unusual. Go to any MLB game today, and the teams on the field consist of players of every racial and ethnic background. People who don't remember Robinson's bravery may believe it has always been that way. After all, aren't players who make it to the major leagues always chosen because of athletic skills, not the color of their skin?
Though his contribution should never be minimized, it is the fact that this is so normal that proves how far the game and society has come, all starting with him.
Here are five reasons why I'll always admire Jackie Robinson and how his accomplishments have affected the game of baseball:
Breaking The MLB Color Line
Jackie Robinson broke the restrictive color line in Major League Baseball. Before he joined the Dodgers, African-Americans had to play on what was then called the Negro Leagues. Although many were much more skilled than white athletes, they could never earn the income and prestige of being major leaguers.
Ignoring The Verbal and Physical Abuse
When Robinson played in his first game at Ebbets Field, and throughout that first season, hundreds of fans booed him. When he played away games at stadiums in segregated cities, such as St. Louis and Cincinnati, the abuse was louder and more physical.
At the start of the season, some opposing team members actually refused to play in any game that included Robinson. Additionally, he received many actual phone and written threats to kill him for daring to be on the same teams with white athletes.
Performance Under Pressure
Robinson stood up for his beliefs that he had every right to be a major leaguer. He accepted all challenges, and overcame them. In that very tough first year, Robinson was deliberately spiked and roughed up by opposing players many times. Through it all, he lived up to his promise to his teammates that he would not fight back. He was voted MLB's Rookie of the Year.
Base Stealing Skill
Jackie Robinson also revolutionized base stealing by his incredible timing and daring. He successfully stole 29 bases in 1947, and averaged 20 annually during his career. Just watching him on the base paths shook up opposing pitchers and made the game more exciting for fans.
Work After Baseball
Throughout his career and later as a public figure in broadcasting and the civil rights movement, Jackie Robinson continuously showed pride in himself, respect for his country and love of baseball. America does right to honor him on April 15 each year.
Jackie Robinson made Major League Baseball truly America's game when he proudly walked on the field for the first time, and for every day thereafter.
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