BC-BBO--Jackie Robinson Day,1st Ld-Writethru
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vin Scully joined the widow of Jackie Robinson to honor the player who broke baseball’s color barrier during Robinson’s centennial birthday celebration Monday night.
Scully greeted 96-year-old Rachel Robinson with a kiss after being introduced to the crowd, with Scully drawing the loudest cheers in a rare public appearance.
He stood behind Rachel with his hands holding her arms during the national anthem at Dodger Stadium. They were joined by Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, and son, David, who linked arms with their mother as they walked on the field.
Robinson became the first black player in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Scully began calling the team’s games three years later, and the now-retired Hall of Fame announcer was friendly off the field with the man he called “Jack.”
Only 7.7% of current MLB players are black, according to MLB.
“If not for Jackie Robinson, I probably wouldn’t be here today playing baseball in the United States,” said Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig, who came from Cuba to chase his pro aspirations. “That’s the reason we respect this day.”
Robinson, who died at age 53 in 1972, would have turned 100 on Jan. 31.
His No. 42 was worn by every major leaguer Monday. The number was retired around the league in 1997.
“For me, it’s a big opportunity and responsibility that I hold very dear to my heart,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “To put this uniform on today and wear that number today, 42, it’s always special.”
Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black recalled reading about Robinson as a youngster.
“To this day I still read about him,” Black said in San Diego. “What a pioneer. What a great example of a human being and what he meant to our country, and in the bigger picture, what he meant for all of us culturally, not only in baseball, but in society.”
In Minnesota, Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo started his pregame media session at 3:42 p.m. CDT in honor of Robinson.
“That’s probably one of the people in baseball I wish I would’ve met,” he said.
At Dodger Stadium, the pregame ceremonies included 42 current and former Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars. Students from Cleveland Elementary, Washington Middle School and John Muir High — all attended by Robinson while growing up in nearby Pasadena — were on hand.
Robinson’s No. 42 was cut into the center field grass.
The Robinson siblings each tossed out first pitches. David’s was a strike to Roberts, while Sharon’s bounced on its way to catcher Russell Martin.
Sharon Robinson works as MLB’s education programming consultant.
The Dodgers hosted an invitation-only 100th birthday celebration in the Stadium Club featuring a sneak preview of the Jackie Robinson Museum, set to open in December in New York City.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and former Dodger Matt Kemp, now with the Reds, came out to home plate to pose with Scully and the Robinson family before the game.
Missing from this year’s LA ceremonies was Don Newcombe, the third black pitcher in the major leagues when he was with the Brooklyn and later Los Angeles Dodgers. He and Robinson were among the first four black players named to an All-Star team. Newcombe died in February at age 92.
Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson hosted more than 75 kids for a screening of the Robinson biopic “42.”
“It’s tough to watch it,” Anderson said. “But it’s brave on his part, for him to be that guy to go through that and just be a leader and basically break the barrier. A guy that I look up to and a guy that motivates me.”
The Seattle Mariners visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City on a recent road trip.
“It takes a special person, a special man to go about it, to take as much backlash as he did and still did that in a professional manner,” Mariners infielder Tim Beckham said. “It speaks a lot about Jackie Robinson.”
Major league players made a $100,000 grant to the Jackie Robinson Foundation in honor of his 100th birthday. It helps fund the college scholarship program run by the foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson.
Associated Press Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, Jay Cohen in Chicago and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.
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