The child gazes into the distance, and through the clouds he says a silhouette of one of baseball’s greatest players, highlighted in stars.
One-hundred years after Jackie Robinson’s birth and 72 years after he became the first African-American to play in the majors, a print designed by international multimedia artist and St. Petersburg resident Zulu Painter informs us Jackie Robinson still can inspire a new generation of kids.
The colorful work is part of the Rays’ Artists Print series, a collaboration with Creative Pinellas, and it represents just one of the ways the team will salute Robinson on Saturday when it plays host to the Boston Red Sox.
Since 2004, April 15 has been set aside to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy with a variety of tributes, including all players wearing “42″ jerseys. The No. 42 was retired that year and eventually phased out by every team.
This year, Major League Baseball and teams that played home games staged tributes for Robinson on Monday, the anniversary of the day Robinson officially broke the game’s notorious color barrier. Teams that didn’t host a game Monday chose to salute Robinson on Tuesday, but the Rays shifted its day to Saturday to make a bigger impact.
Robinson endured taunts from opposing players and fans but never lost his composure. His stance signaled the need for greater change and some historians cite it as the start of the modern day civil rights movement. Rays president Brian Auld said the commemoration is a great day to examine how far we’ve come and how much more work we have to do.
“I think it’s an opportunity, in an explicit way, to look back on history as an institution and a country,” Auld said. “It’s a good time to reflect on how racism impacted both institutions.”
In addition to releasing the artist print, the Rays will have a number of events surrounding the game and the week. The Florida Holocaust Museum’s “Beaches, Benches and Boycotts” exhibit will be on display at Gate 5 during the homestand, which started Tuesday with a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles. The exhibit illuminates Tampa Bay’s struggle with racial equality and shines a light on the local leaders who changed the region after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On Saturday, The Rays will recognize community members who exemplify Jackie Robinson’s nine core values — courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence — with the Breaking Barriers Community Leader Award in a pregame ceremony. Talented singer and Arts Conservatory for Teens founder and CEO Alex Harris will perform the national anthem.
Contact Ernest Hooper at [email protected] Follow at @hoop4you.