Monday, April 15, 2013
April 15- Brooklyn Dodgers
Today is one of the few days where I’m happy that I waited until the end of the day to write this post. When I woke up this morning I had Jackie Robinson on the brain; it showed in the photos I posted to my Instagram account. For the rest of the morning I hummed out a few stories I had been working for one of the sports Web sites I write for, eDraft Sports (@eDraftSports). The Boston Red Sox had just finished off their sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a Mike Napoli walk-off RBI double, the Colorado Rockies/New York Mets game had been postponed due to snow and a series of bombs had gone off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The first message I saw came from my friend Kaitlin Flanigan (@KaitlinFlanigan) on Twitter as she was live on the scene doing coverage of the marathon for NECN in Boston. I asked to make sure she wasn't hurt in anyway, at which she let me know she was fine. For the next hour or so I retweeted anything she sent out as to hopefully let it get to those who may have had friends or family on scene who follow me. The irony of this interaction sent me mentally back to December 11 when I was held up at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Clackamas, Oregon after a gunman opened fire in the food court. Kaitlin was one of the first people I was able to speak to once I was extracted an hour after the first shots were fired, taken outside to be handcuffed and questioned before being released to notify everyone that I made it out safely. She and the newsroom got me on the air live to discuss everything that had happened. Needless to say, these are crazy times we live in.
All day long I’ve been wearing my 1932-1957 Brooklyn Dodgers cap, and all day long I’ve been trying to come up with an answer to what Jackie Robinson Day means to me and everyone else. I could easily take a cop-out approach and say that it’s about diversity or equality, but those are just words. I always need something more concrete to really exercise a real emotion.
I’ve never been one to look at photos of carnage, but today I found myself shuffling through the ghastly aftermath of the bombs that wounded so many and killed three including an eight-year-old boy. I couldn’t help but think back to all of my history classes in middle school, high school and at the University of Oregon when we discussed segregation during the 1930s through the 1970s. Photo after photo and story after story the end result was almost always the same; churches were bombed or burned, black men were strung up by their necks for all to see and children ran through the streets, avoiding assault for nothing more than because they were born with a different skin color. While the motives of today’s bombing are unclear at the moment, the events of today are no different than what our country has been through for the last 100 years. As much as we like to think that times have changed I can honestly say that I don’t believe it. If it’s not about skin color, it’s about religion. If it’s not about religion, it’s about economic stature. People feel that they need to be against one another for reasons that only make sense to them. All my life I’ve done what I can to live up to my principles of not discriminating against another person because they are different than me, but I can’t force anyone else to feel the same way. I can only try to talk sense into others, reason with them and let them know that I’ll always be there to listen and understand.
If you read my post about Hank Aaron on April 13 then you have an idea of the environment I grew up in and how intolerant I am of prejudice. If not, go back and read it before moving on with this piece.
In February of last year 30 baseball fans, including myself, were flown to Phoenix, Arizona for the Top-30 final auditions to get into the MLB Fan Cave. On the final night we were together we were paid a visit by Jeremy Barfield (@Baseclogger). Jeremy is an outfielder in the Oakland Athletics organization and is also the youngest son of former Toronto Blue Jay Jesse Barfield. He was in the hot tub with a few other people by the time I had gotten there. I was wearing one of the t-shirts I had made for my Fan Cave campaign and he immediately asked me where I was from. I told him I lived in Eugene, Oregon, to which he replied, “So you probably don’t like black people then.” We were off to an amazing start. Everyone else around kept to themselves, but waited to see how I would react. I responded with, “No, but I can totally understand why you would assume so.” I told him that I was only living there to go to school and that I was actually from the Bay Area, but I kept a pretty cool attitude despite being a called a racist within a matter of seconds. I then turned the conversation around on him and asked how he came to that conclusion. By this time it had been about five minutes and no one had dared to join in on our conversation. He said that he had played games there when he was with the Vancouver Canadians and he ran into to trouble at one of the bars near campus. I asked him if he remembered the name. He couldn’t. I then described which bar I thought it was and he agreed on all accounts. “Yah, that’s Taylor’s,” I said. Taylor’s is a decent place to get a drink or meal in the afternoon, but at night and on the weekends it’s overrun by all the fraternity and sorority kids. In Eugene, that means a lot of rich white kids. Once we solved this mystery I asked him if he wanted to hear a story. He said yes, so I told him the story about the last time I had been to Taylor’s at night on a weekend…
I was with four of my closest friends, just shooting some pool and having a few beers. I happened to be wearing a Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers player-T I had purchased a month prior because it was summer, but more important, because it was baseball season. As the night progressed the pool table area began filling up. With that, people also started to get heavily intoxicated. Around midnight it was hard to continue playing pool, let alone walk around. It was late and I wanted to head home to get to bed so I went up to the front counter to close out my tab. I put my cue up and took about four steps to the left when some kid yelled at me, “Fuck you nigger lover.” I turned my head slightly, recognized the kid from my nights as a bartender down the street, at which he said again, “Fuck you nigger lover.” The last time I had thrown a punch was when I was 21-years-old in downtown Portland. And in that case I had knocked a kid unconscious after he tried to rob me with a knife in-hand. In this case, it wasn’t worth it. I hastily walked up to the front, closed my tab and left.
Jeremy was shocked. Everyone else listening was more surprised that I had used the “n-word,” but I didn’t make excuses for it. It’s what really happened. Jeremy and I chatted for another 20-30 minutes. I told him stories about the history of Oregon and the Eugene area and how in the 1920s the largest population of Ku Klux Klan members per capita was in Cottage Grove, as well as other torrid stories of prejudice which took place yards away from where I went to class. By the end of the night Jeremy had asked me for the shirt I was wearing, which I happily handed over… which then began the tattoo discussion. In the end, we were better people for it. Clearly we’re both people who wear our emotions on our sleeves, but we were able to be amicable with one another on a friendly basis. We still talk to this day.
4/15/47: On April 15, 2012 I had the fortune to be meet Jackie Robinson’s daughter Sharon while I was in New York City for the MLB Fan Cave. All nine of us were given a cache of jerseys and shirts from Majestic Apparel the week prior. One of the jerseys we got was an authentic #42 Dodgers jersey. I had always wanted to get one, and I was more than thankful to have one provided; so thankful that I emailed everyone who may have been possible for this coming to be. Everyone.
When the day came I threw on my Jackie Robinson player-T, my Robinson jersey over the top and this cap with the date Jackie first took the field all ready written on the front panel. When she arrived we all greeted her, shook her hand and thanked her for stopping by. She was on a bit of whirlwind tour, having traveled around New York doing other interviews on her way to that night’s New York Yankees game against the Los Angeles Angels. The public relations staff had us take photos with her, the majority of which felt really unnatural, much like a lot of things that happened while I was there.
After the photos we corralled around the couch, asking her questions about her father, mother and her life. The ladies had elected to sit on the couch; however, us dudes opted to stand as she was.
She told us all about what she could recall from his playing days as she was only seven-years-old by the time he retired at the end of the 1957 season. I had asked her if she had the opportunity to go to the old house her parents lived in when he played for the Montreal Royals before playing for the Dodgers. She said she was there not too long before our meeting as they had made it a national landmark in 2011. I looked around the room a bit and noticed that Eddie really wanted to say something, but decided to keep it to himself. The back story behind that most of the other Cave Dwellers didn’t like Eddie very much and complained that he always talked about himself too much. I was not one of these people. One thing that I did know about Eddie is that, while a little rough around the edges, he is an incredibly polite and loyal person. I also knew that his neighbor was Chadwick Boseman, the actor who portrayed Jackie in the film “42.” When Sharon finished talking about Montreal I asked Eddie about this in front of everyone. Sharon lit up, and she and Eddie went back and forth talking about Boseman and the upcoming film. Before she left she gave us all copies of her book Promises to Keep and when I had a free moment I nervously told her I had a tattoo in honor of her father. I really had no idea how she was going to react to it, and the last thing I wanted to do was make a 62-year-old woman uncomfortable. I asked her if it was ok to show her, she said yes, so I did.
She smiled and thanked me. She then told me that one of her nephews had quite a few tattoos which we both laughed at. We said our goodbyes and away she went. It was definitely one of the more exhilarating days in my life.
In August of last year, almost three months after I had been let go from the Fan Cave, I visited my friend Dave Kaufman and stayed with him in Montreal. One of the most important things I wanted to do while I was there was check out Olympic Stadium, the former home of the Montreal Expos. Around midnight on a Thursday evening we made our way there. When we arrived the first thing I saw was this…
In all the excitement I had forgotten about the year that Jackie had played with the Royals in 1946, but the city of Montreal certainly hadn’t. The only thing about that trip I regret not doing is stopping by his old house. I suppose I'll have to make another trip in the future.
Unlike a lot of other players and teams I’ve written about it’s hard for me to really give a great, detailed story about Jackie. Not because I can’t, but because so many people have done at way deeper levels than I have. With this post I mostly wanted to talk about the moments in which I was influenced by him. This day and the #42 have touched more lives than any of us can really come to terms with. Jackie graduated from UCLA, served for his country in the Army, won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1947, won a batting title (.342) and the NL MVP award in 1949, won a World Series ring in 1955, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and focused all of his attention to the Civil Rights movement until his passing on October 24, 1972. The man lived, breathed and bled humanity.
In the days leading up to Jackie Robinson Day while I was in the Fan Cave we were all asked to write about our opinions of what the #42 means to us. Most of the others took their time, but I penned out my thoughts in less than five minutes. As I reflect upon every story that I’ve told, and emotion that I’ve felt I think it’s best to leave you with what I wrote as an ending.
42 is an interesting number to me. As a baseball fan it has clearly become synonymous to the man who broke the color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1947, but in life, it is something more. A number of years ago I read through Douglas Adams’s novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and in it is a particular passage about the “ultimate question about the universe, life and everything,” at which the answer is 42. There isn’t much of an explanation as to what that means exactly, but to someone like me, a baseball fan, I draw my conclusion based on my experiences.
42, to me, is the symbol within the baseball community that signifies equality. In life, it signifies change. I was lucky enough to be raised to look past color, gender and/or differences in other people, and know that I am no better nor worse than anyone. I will never know, nor understand the daily struggles that Jackie Robinson faced, but I can continue to learn from the manner in which he dealt with it. Robinson’s impact during and after his playing career changed the way we look at one another. Whether it was when he played his heart out on the ball field, or marching down the streets alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Robinson’s message was always simple and to the point, “I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
Robinson’s priorities went beyond baseball. Like the men and women he marched with in life, his priority lied on the unification of everyone. Looking back on Adams’ point of what 42 means, I think it’s safe to say it’s true. 42 is the number that bonds us all as human beings. It’s life, love, happiness and an outlook on a brighter tomorrow.