LOS ANGELES — Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker is keenly appreciative of the opportunity to start Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers when baseball again recognizes Jackie Robinson’s contributions.
“The fact that I get to pitch on Jackie Robinson Day,” Walker said, “and I get to wear 42 on my back is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time — since I started playing baseball. So, it’s definitely a great honor.”
Center fielder Austin Jackson views the annual observance of Robinson’s achievement as a moment that “means something to everybody” involved in Major League Baseball.
“When you take the field,” he said, “and you’re running out and everybody is wearing the same number, I think it touches you a little bit because everybody is the same.
“No matter the skin type, no matter where you’re from, no matter the race or ethnicity, it doesn’t matter. On that day, and every day really, we’re all the same. We’re all out to achieve the same goal.
“I just think it’s special that MLB recognizes that.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier by appearing in a game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In tribute, players on all clubs will wear his No. 42.
Robinson’s widow, Rachel, is scheduled to play a central role in the ceremonial first pitch.
“On behalf of our family and the Jackie Robinson Foundation,” Rachel Robinson said, “I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Major League Baseball for honoring Jack’s historic achievements and his fight for equality both on and off the ball field.”
Robinson died at age 53 in 1972 from a heart attack.
The game at Dodger Stadium will also serve as the annual Civil Rights Game and include award presentations to former NBA star Magic Johnson, a part owner of the Dodgers, and Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson.
Frank Robinson recently marked the 40th anniversary of becoming baseball’s first black manager. The Mariners’ Lloyd McClendon is the only current black manager.
“I had the pleasure of managing against Frank,” McClendon said, “and he was a tough nut to crack. I’ll never forget I set up golf for him one day in Pittsburgh.
“And he called over to the office and said, ‘This is Frank Robinson.’ I said, how you doing, Skip?’ He said, ‘Thanks for golf’ and hung up. I said, ‘Well, I’m making progress.’
“But I’ll tell you what, when I was fired in Pittsburgh, the first phone call I got was from Frank Robinson. I’ll never forget that. He said, ‘You’ll get another opportunity. You’re good at what you do.
“And that meant a lot to me.”