Honoring Jackie Robinson extends to space as astronaut dons No. 42

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

LOS ANGELES -- Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated even in space this year.

While Rachel Robinson, the player's widow, and commissioner Rob Manfred were set to honor Robinson in a ceremony at Dodger Stadium in conjunction with Major League Baseball's annual Civil Rights Game, astronaut Terry Virts wore a Dodgers jersey with Robinson's No. 42 along with a Brooklyn cap at the International Space Station orbiting the Earth.

Wednesday marked the 68th anniversary of Robinson breaking the major league color barrier.

"I can remember reading a book about Jackie when I was in the first grade," Virts said in a video posted on MLB.com. "Even at that young age, I was really impressed with what he did beyond baseball. Jackie, alongside his wife Rachel, opened up a world of opportunities that had been closed to so many Americans simply because of the color of their skin. What he did took courage, a lot of courage. He had to endure things that most of us could not imagine, and he had to do it while maintaining composure that most of us couldn't begin to muster."

For the Dodgers' part, president Stan Kasten said the team will erect a statue of Robinson. In its 53-year history, Dodger Stadium has never had a statue to a former player.

"How would I feel? I've been waiting 20 years," RachelRobinson said. "It's the fulfillment of a dream to have a statue here."

Opening Day rosters included 8.3 percent of players who identified as African-American, according to Richard Lapchick's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. That was a slight increase from 8.2 last year, which equaled the study low set in 2007.

"We all recognize that there's a tremendous amount of athletes that are migrating to football and basketball," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Create more space in the inner cities is one possible way to do it. We have to continue to find ways to make our game appeal to young people of all walks of life. I know this is a point of emphasis. There's a growing concern that our game does not reflect our society in the demographics. We'd like to think we could attract every good athlete from every walk of life."

Robinson's No. 42 was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997, with players already using the number grandfathered in. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was the last player to wear it, in 2013. Then-commissioner Bud Selig decided in 2005 that all teams would honor Robinson each April 15. Every major league player, manager and coach on the field wears No. 42 on the date.

In New York, Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson wore special spikes with Robinson's No. 42 on the side.

"I came up in the Dodger organization, and it was special for all of us young guys to hear the firsthand accounts from like Roy Campanella and Carl Erskine, and all the guys that played on that Brooklyn Dodger team, of just what a special person Jackie Robinson was, not only as a ball player, but as a human being and what he went through," Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Every spring we make sure we keep messages alive that are important and inspirational, and Jackie's certainly one of them. I think (for) that the next generation ... it's an important part of American history that needs to be taught and needs to be understood."

Robinson was a six-time All-Star, the 1947 major league Rookie of the Year and the NL MVP in 1949, when he won the league's batting title.

"Jackie was the only black man that I knew of at that time who could have done the job that he did -- and do it with the pride that he did it," former teammate Don Newcombe said in Los Angeles. "That's why he was so respected. Martin Luther King came to my house one night for dinner 28 days before he died in Memphis. He said to me: Don, I want you and Jackie and Roy Campanella and Larry Doby to know that without you, I would never have made it as successfully as I have in civil rights if it were not for what you men did on the baseball field.' I said: Martin, you're kidding.' He said: No, I'm not, and I want you to call Jackie tomorrow morning and tell him what I said."

Toronto catcher Russell Martin said learned about Jackie Robinson from his father, who grew up in Montreal, where Robinson played for the Triple-A Royals before the Dodger called up.

"When he was growing up he'd get in rundowns on purpose and get out of them because he was faster than the other kids and he'd say that he was Jackie Robinson's son," Martin said.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon was used in this report.

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