Rays honor coaches on Robinson Day
Hendrick, Henderson help club celebrate 62nd anniversary
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, as it was at every ballpark throughout Major League Baseball where games were being played.
This season's Jackie Robinson Day commemorates the 62nd anniversary of Robinson playing his first Major League game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. As he crossed the foul line onto the field, Robinson became not only the first African-American player in modern Major League Baseball history, but a beacon of hope and inspiration to Americans from all corners of the country.
As a tribute to the enduring legacy of Robinson's remarkable life and baseball career, Commissioner Allan H. Selig has declared that April 15 of each season will be known as Jackie Robinson Day.
"Obviously, we wouldn't be here without him," Rays center fielder B.J. Upton said. "He paved the way for us. Knowing that he did that for us, I think it's kind of up to us to get more kids into it. It's a great day to go out and honor him by wearing his number, and obviously for a great reason."
Every Rays player, coach and manager wore Robinson's No. 42 on Wednesday, as did every player, coach and manager in baseball.
"Every time I get a chance to wear his number, I feel good about it," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "And I'm honored about it because of the things he went through. Every year, you learn more about the history of what happened and what he went through, so this is one of those things where every year, you're just happy you get to wear it."
Outfielder Gabe Kapler said it was important for those in the baseball community to honor somebody who changed baseball.
"[Robinson] changed baseball from a standpoint of racial equality, so I think every player has to take their moment to appreciate the era we are playing baseball in and why -- why things have changed," Kapler said. "I've always said that baseball and the clubhouse is an extension of society.
"Jackie Robinson, of course, is similar to some of the civil rights leaders that we had and [he is a part of] why things are different in our country. He's the reason things are different in baseball. We have to look at him in the same light."
In recognition of Robinson's ideals of excellence on and off the field, his passion for the game and leadership, the Rays wanted to recognize two members of the coaching staff, George Hendrick and Steve Henderson, by having each throw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday afternoon's game against the Yankees, a 4-3 loss.
Hendrick was a four-time All-Star who played 18 Major League seasons. During his career, he played for two World Series winners in Oakland (1972) and St. Louis (1982). He joined the Rays in 2005 as the first-base coach.
Henderson played 12 Major League seasons and spent eight years as the Rays' Minor League hitting coordinator. He became Tampa Bay's hitting coach in 2005.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation was established 36 years ago to honor Robinson's pioneering legacy by providing four-year college scholarships, graduate school grants, extensive mentoring, leadership training and career development programming to academically gifted minority students.
More than 1,300 students have graduated as Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars since the program's inception. Thanks to a new partnership between the Foundation and Major League Baseball, all 30 clubs are currently sponsoring a scholar from their home market.
On Wednesday, the Rays welcomed their 2009 honorees, Carolyn Rose Alvarez-Walter and Ivana Simpson. Each threw out a ceremonial first pitch.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.