On Monday it was tax day, but more importantly it was also Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium. Many special guests were in attendance to help celebrate the life of the first black baseball player to play in Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
Thanks to General Manager Branch Rickey who signed Robinson, the Dodgers were the first major league team to play a black player since the 1880’s. This ended racial segregation that had relegated black players to the Negro leagues for six decades.
For all of Robinson’s accomplishments he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. Subsequently, his number 42 was retired by all MLB teams and every player on every team wears this number on his special day. Robinson was also the first student to letter in four sports at UCLA.
The on-field, pre-game activities kicked-off with introductions of the esteemed guests.
Robinson’s wife, Rachel and their kids, David and Sharon. Dodger Special Advisor to the Chairman, 1956 NL MVP and Cy Young Award Winner Don Newcombe, who was also Robinson’s roommate, and Dodger Hall of Fame catcher and three-time NL MVP Award winner Roy Campanella who was represented by his son and daughter.
The first 40,000 fans in attendance received a Robinson-Newcombe-Campanella statue.
Then the 17-member choir of Dodger owner Magic Johnson’s church home, West Angeles Church of God In Christ, sang the national anthem. A pleasing rendition.
Following that, Academy Award nominee Harrison Ford, who stars in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “42” as Rickey, took the field to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Dodger manager Don Mattingly. Ford “waved off the first signal” from Mattingly and then bounced the pitch to the plate.
Then Lakers legend and surprise guest, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, officially started the game with “It’s Time for Dodger Baseball!”
The Veterans of the Game were two members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators in the U.S. military, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Lumpkin of Los Angeles and Major Levy Thorn Hill of Virginia.
And to top it off, the great-granddaughter of Rickey, Kelly Jakle, sang a beautiful rendition of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch.
When it was time to introduce the Padres players, it wasn’t surprising that Dodger fans gave a hearty boo. They’re still sore about Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin injuring Dodgers star pitcher Zack Greinke while attacking him at the pitcher’s mound last week in San Diego after being hit by a pitch. Greinke is on the disabled list for eight weeks with a fracture of his non-throwing collarbone and Quentin is suspended eight games for causing the incident.
On Opening Day, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw hit his career-first home run. Padres starting pitcher Eric Stults, matched that by hitting his career-first homer. A three-run blast in the second inning over the left-center wall off of Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers made an attempt at a comeback with a couple of RBI’s for Adrian Gonzalez and a three-hit performance by Carl Crawford, but fell short and lost the game, 6-3, after tying it in the fifth inning.
Five relievers entered the game after Billingsley’s departure in the seventh and gave up six walks over the final 16 batters, with the Padres scoring three runs on only two hits. Ronald Belisario took the loss.
The highlight of the day was the tribute to Robinson. Mattingly and Crawford spoke about him after the game.
“Jackie Robinson Day is special to us. It was great to have Don Newcombe and Jackie’s wife here too,” Mattingly said.