Jackie Robinson Day!

When I was a kid, the most exciting sound to me was the sound of the ice cream truck rolling down the street with its iconic tune blaring from the bull-horn speaker on the top of the truck.

Whenever we heard that sound we’d rush into the house and scrape together any spare quarters we could find. If we didn’t have any saved up, we’d run and ask mom for some spare change.

But while other kids were buying ice cream sandwiches, drumsticks or the red, white and blue bomb pops, I was buying packs of baseball cards.

I can’t say exactly when or why I started purchasing them but I can tell you I loved opening that wax paper to reveal the chalky flat stick of bubble gum. I would quickly scan through all the cards in the pack to see what treasures I had scored. If the pack contained a Dodgers player, I was elated, and if it contained a Dodgers player who was not yet checked off on my team checklist, it was even better.

1972 was the first year that I really started collecting cards and 1975 was the first year I collected enough cards that I actually completed a set. I continued collecting cards through the 70’s and into the 80’s.

One year as a teenager, I was in Kansas visiting my relatives and my uncle pulled out a scrapbook that he wanted to show me. My eyes bulged as he opened the pages and I saw page after page of baseball memorabilia, including many older baseball cards from the 50’s. Cards from the 50’s were a novelty to me as they represented the league before league expansion in the early 60’s and division play of the late 60’s. For some reason, the names on those cards seemed even more legendary than the iconic names of my youth.

My uncle turned the page and there it was, a 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson card. Picture Ralphie at the beginning of “A Christmas Story”, with eyes mesmerized and mouth agape at the items in the department store window display as the adult Ralphie says:

Higbees’ corner window was traditionally a high-water mark of the pre-Christmas season. First nighters, packed earmuff to earmuff, jostled in wonderment before a golden tinkling display of mechanized, electronic joooyyyy.

In that moment, I was Ralphie, spellbound as I saw the iconic Jackie Robinson card on full display.

The scrapbook wasn’t that big and it didn’t have a ton of cards. It was the product of my uncle’s childhood hobby, created when he was not much younger than I was at that moment.

A few years later I received an unexpected package in the mail. I didn’t remember ordering anything and this was well before the internet and online purchasing became a thing. I could see that it was from my uncle but I had no idea what it was.

I opened the package and there it was, the scrapbook that once belonged to my uncle. There was a note which I’m sad to say I’ve misplaced. I don’t remember exactly what the note said but knowing my uncle, he expressed that because of my love for baseball and baseball cards, he wanted me to have the cards he had collected as a kid.

Today marks the annual Jackie Robinson day in Major League Baseball. It’s a day to honor the man who broke the color barrier in the big leagues. I’m sad to say that as a kid, I knew next to nothing about what Jackie endured to open the door for black players to show their talents and skills in the MLB. I admired Jackie and other Dodger greats like Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe because they were some of the greatest to ever play the game. I admire them even more now because of the environment they lived in and the character and resolve they displayed in the face of unbelievable and unimaginable adversity.

Every player wears #42 on Jackie Robinson day and there are no names on the jerseys. The great Mariano Rivera was the last player to don the number 42 as his normal jersey number. No player will ever wear that number as his everyday number as the number 42 has been retired from every major league team.

As I write this, the Dodgers are playing the Colorado Rockies at Dodgers Stadium in one of the final remaining games of this annual day of remembrance. The Dodgers are leading the Rockies 3-2. I think it would be appropriate if the Dodgers were to score one more run and win the game 4-2!

 

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