"The significance of Jackie Robinson Day is not lost on anyone," said Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer. "As more and more people realize what April 15 means, not only for baseball, but for our country in general, I think you're going to see the celebration grow annually."
DuPuy pointed out that under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, 330 uniformed baseball personnel took the field wearing No. 42 on Tuesday, a day after MLB committed $1.2 million over four years in scholarships for the foundation that bears Robinson's name. Nine full squads agreed to wear Robinson's number. Along with the Mets and Nationals, the Dodgers, Cardinals, A's, Angels, Pirates, Rangers and Rays all wore the number Selig retired in perpetuity in 1997 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Robinson's feat.
"Because of it, every kid who's in every ballpark tonight will ask about Jackie Robinson," DuPuy said. "And so, those memories and stories will carry on from generation to generation."
As far as MLB now sponsoring a $10,000 scholarship for each of the 30 teams over the next four years, DuPuy added:
"Baseball talks a lot about its social consciousness. This is an actual realization and manifestation of that, an activation of that concept."
DuPuy represented Selig at the festivities. Rachel Robinson, Jackie's seemingly ageless widow and the founder of the 35-year-old Jackie Robinson Foundation -- which offers those college scholarships to underprivileged minority students -- was there only hours after touring the rotunda named after her late husband that will be the entryway to nearby Citi Field.
The new ballpark, which looms large beyond the outfield fence, is set to open in time for the 2009 season. She was joined on the field by her daughter, Sharon, the vice chair of the foundation's board, and Della Britton Baeza, the organization's president. Len Coleman, the board's chairman and former president of the National League, was on hand for the afternoon festivities, but not for the ceremony.
David Patterson, who recently ascended to the position of governor of the state of New York, threw out the first pitch. Patterson, who is legally blind, tossed one just off the plate to the left and high.
It was a day of good feeling and good cheer for a Mets organization that boasts am uncommon racial balance. Omar Minaya, the team's general manager, was the first Latino to gain a position of that level when he was hired to run the Montreal Expos in 2002. Willie Randolph became the first black manager in New York's long big league baseball history when he was given the job by Minaya three years ago.
Randolph is in his fourth season.
Minaya said he had long respected Robinson, not only for what the Hall of Famer had accomplished, but his impact on others.
"He impacted my life, he impacted all our lives," Minaya said. "I don't know that I would be in this position today if not for the struggles and the coverage of Jackie Robinson and what he did. To me, I think he transcends race and religion. He made our nation better."
Ironically, Robinson had designs on managing the Dodgers after he retired in 1956, Rachel said, but that call never came.
"All he wanted was to be asked," she recalled.
Robinson long felt that baseball wouldn't be a truly American sport until the front office and manager's office were integrated. He never realized that day, dying from complications of diabetes in 1972, three years before Frank Robinson became the first black manager, combining that with his playing commitment for the Indians.
Rachel Robinson said on Tuesday that her husband would have been very pleased by the growth in the sport in which he had his greatest sociological impact, not to mention the commotion about his place in baseball history.
"He would be astonished by the amount of commemoration that's going on about he and his life and about what he had done," she said. "He was doing what he felt was the right thing. And he was doing what came naturally to him. What he wanted when he was alive was to be listened to, and I think he was satisfied with that.
"However, saying that, we all have our ways of wanting to be remembered, and I think he would've been thrilled with what we have done and what we have achieved."