Jackie’s big day

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Before the Dodgers took the baseball field last Saturday and drilled the Arizona Diamondbacks 8-4, an eight-foot high bronze statue of Jackie Robinson sliding into home plate was unveiled.

Some of the dignitaries in attendance included Robinson’s widow, 94-year-old Rachel, their children Sharon and David, announcer Vin Scully, Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda, pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe, both teammates and Earvin “Magic’’ Johnson.

“I’m more happy because of his statue than the two I’ve got,’’ said Johnson, a part owner of the Dodgers and five-time NBA champion with the Lakers. “You know that Jackie is just smiling in heaven right now.’’

Seventy years ago, Robinson became the first African-American to play in the major leagues in the 20th century.

Robinson was more than a great baseball player because what he did on that day in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field said all people should have an equal opportunity regardless of race, creed, language or religion.

Robinson’s glorious triumph wouldn’t have been possible if not for the forward-thinking visionary Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ general manager and arguably the finest talent evaluator ever, who brought him to the majors.

Born in the South on January 31, 1919, Robinson and his family left Georgia and moved to Pasadena where he attended Muir High, Pasadena Junior College and later UCLA.

There he lettered in football, basketball, track and field and baseball, which was his weakest of the four.

Leaving the Westwood campus before completing his degree, Robinson, a six-time All-Star, spent time in the Army and played in the Negro Leagues where he toiled for the legendary Kansas City Monarchs before being signed to a minor league contract by the Dodgers.

Robinson’s final stop before entering the big leagues was Montreal where he sparkled on defense and at the plate.

When Robinson, elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962, walked onto that field on April 15, 1947, it changed baseball and America for the better.

Robinson played until 1956 and helped the Dodgers claim six National League pennants and a World Series title in 1955.

Over a 10-year career, Robinson was tabbed Rookie of the Year and also Most Valuable Player in 1949 and finished with a .311 batting average, 197 stolen bases, 137 home runs, 734 runs batted in and 947 runs scored.

Though I never saw Robinson play, my father Nicholas and I were in attendance on June 4, 1972 at Dodger Stadium when Koufax, who entered the Hall of Fame that year, Roy Campanella and Robinson had their uniform numbers retired.

Four months later, on October 24, Robinson would be gone at age 53. Gone, yes, but never forgotten.

Rick Assad has written about sports for the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times. Contact him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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