LOS ANGELES-As she made her way through the throng of reporters, fans and well-wishers to celebrate her husband’s legacy, Rachel Robinson beamed a smile that illuminated joyous pride and humble honor. While there was a game to be played at Dodger Stadium between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, it was also a time, a moment and a day to honor the most revered figure in the annals of Major League Baseball.
Jackie Robinson Day at a Dodger Stadium was a celebration that would have made the first man to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier proud. Robinson’s daughter Sharon and actor Harrison Ford, who portrays Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey in the hit new film “42,” helped bring out the buzz factor on a great baseball moment.
Team owner Magic Johnson, the great Don Newcombe and former Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul Jabbar all came out to pay tribute to Robinson. Robinson, who integrated the sport in April 1947, is the only player to have his number officially retired by Major League Baseball.
Every year in homage to the 1947 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1949 league Most Valuable Player, all players on every team in Major League Baseball adorn the number “42” in respect to Robinson, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1962.
As the pre-game festivities tribute to Robinson shifted to and fro from the presence of a couple of Tuskegee Airmen to Ford throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to the national anthem sung by a chorale from West Angeles Church of God in Christ to Sharon Robinson being in attendance, all eyes were fixated on Mrs. Robinson, who lost her famous husband in 1972 at the age of 53.
Sixty-six years ago on April 15, Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers, scoring the winning run on an eventual team victory. Rachel Robinson spoke to the media about returning back to Los Angeles, what the film “42” means to a much younger generation and thoughts about Jackie’s legacy as a player and a man.
Asked by a reporter about coming back to Los Angeles, Rachel Robinson was very straightforward with her reply.
“Coming back here to see the Dodgers moving forward, growing, refurbished. It’s exciting,” Robinson said. ”I love the team. I have always been a part of their history for so long that it’s always great when something expands and grows.”
On the movie “42,” which gives account to the endless stream of hate and bigotry that her husband encountered as the first black ballplayer in the big leagues, Rachel Robinson said there are a couple of things that today’s generation can learn from.
“I hope they will-one, be educated because they’ll learn about that period, the challenges of that period and being able to compare them to the present,” Rachel Robinson said. “Then I hope they’ll be inspired. They’ll say, ‘What am I doing? What am I doing to help other people? What am I doing to help society? I hope they will do both.’”
The film “42” got its blessings from Robinson, who said that the movie was “beautiful” and “authentic.” That’s high praise for a movie that raked in $27.5 million nationally during its opening weekend. When one thinks of ushering praise, Branch Rickey, of course, deserves his fair share of making the pipe dream of integration in baseball into reality.
Ford, that A-list actor widely known for his roles in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Air Force One, Witness and Clear and Present Danger, spoke on the inspiration that “42” provides.
“It’s about Jackie’s relationship with Branch Rickey,” said Ford. “It’s a wonderful story. There’s inspiration to it as well giving insight to her (Rachel Robinson) relationship with her husband, which was more of a benefit to (actor Chadwick Boseman) than me, but she’s a wonderful source of inspiration.”
Ford went on to add how young people can benefit from seeing the Jackie Robinson story play out on the big screen.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate an important American story that is really to the benefit of young people,” Ford said. “Although they may recognize the name Jackie Robinson as a footnote in history, really haven’t had the opportunity and experience of what he went through.
“I think that is very important for young people to feel what it was like to be Jackie Robinson at that time, and to understand that this is not the way we want to behave, the way we should behave and for them to recognize opportunities in their lives to help make America a better place.”