ST. PETERSBURG — For the 18th straight season, all the players, coaches, managers, umpires and on-field personnel wore No. 42 during the Rays-Rangers game Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
It was MLB’s annual Jackie Robinson Day, a salute to the late Hall of Famer who became the first Black major-leaguer and began the game’s integration in 1947. Given America’s social-justice climate in the past year, it might have been the most meaningful one of them all.
“It’s a huge privilege (to wear No. 42), first and foremost, knowing what he went through at the time, being brave and bold enough to make those decisions,’' Rays third baseman Mike Brosseau said. “It’s something we’re still fighting to this very day. For (Robinson) to get the ball rolling, (to recognize) African Americans being suppressed, not only in baseball but in life in general, it’s a very special day. I’m very proud and honored to wear that jersey.’'
More than 100 major-league players — including Rays pitcher Chris Archer — donated their game-day salary to the Players Alliance, which works to promote Black participation and seeks diversity at every level of organized baseball. Each park showed a video — “Thank You, Jackie’' — that showed Robinson’s impact as an athlete and activist. It was narrated by Curtis Granderson, the former All-Star outfielder and president of the Players Alliance.
The Players Alliance, working with Nike, also provided special batting practice T-shirts (”Breaking Barriers’') that were worn prior to the game.
“This is a bright spot compared to what’s been happening (in America),’' Rays first-base coach Ozzie Timmons said. “The Players Alliance has been promoting awareness, and there’s a big movement going on, going through a lot of Black communities and bringing awareness to baseball. It helps bring a breath of fresh air and show people that something positive is coming.’'
Timmons said he has considered Robinson’s legacy every time he puts on a uniform and steps onto the field. For others, it’s an annual reminder of Robinson’s significance.
“You see the players now getting out in the forefront of bringing awareness (to issues),’' manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s nice for our industry. From where we’re at in society right now, it’s pretty good timing.’'
Thursday’s game-worn No. 42 jerseys and caps will be available for auction at raysbaseball.com/auctions.
Return to New York
The Rays begin a three-game series on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, a place where they won five of six games last season. In 23 seasons, the Rays have had a winning mark at Yankee Stadium only five times.
The Rays also eliminated the Yankees in last season’s American League Division Series, getting the clincher on Mike Brosseau’s eight-inning home run off closer Aroldis Chapman in the deciding Game 5.
How will Brosseau be greeted?
“I’ve thought about that once or twice,’' he said. “We’re going to take it in stride. They have good fans. They are loud, and they make their voices heard. I’m sure I’ll hear some good one-liners here and there.’'
Timmons said the Yankee Stadium venue is irrelevant.
“It’s another place to play, and it’s a team we don’t like very much based on the stuff that has been going on,’' said Timmons, referring to what appeared to be some head-hunting pitching strategy in last weekend’s series at Tropicana Field. “We’re going in with a chip on our shoulders, ready to take the whole series from them, if not sweep them. We’ve got something to play for every time we play those guys.’'
Kiermaier shows progress
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, placed on the 10-day injured list on April 6 with a left quadriceps strain, did some more intense running and took some at-bats. Cash said Kiermaier will make the road trip (New York this weekend, Kansas City for a Monday-Wednesday series) and expects him to be activated during that span.
“He looked really good,’' Cash said. “He threw well and seemed pretty timed up. He might hit a round of batting practice (this weekend). He has made progress, and we’re excited about that.’'
Cash said left-hander Josh Fleming, who allowed one run in five innings Wednesday night, will stay with the major-league team because it needs innings due to the injury to Archer (right forearm tightness). Whether he’s a starter or bulk pitcher (behind an opener), Cash said Fleming can provide 5-6 innings of work on a given night. … Shortstop Willy Adames and first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo did not start. Cash said Adames “has played as much as anybody in the field,’' and it was time for a rest. Joey Wendle made his second start this season at short (Adames were there for the other 11 games). For Tsutsugo — batting .158 and striking out 16 times in his 38 at-bats — Cash said it was a chance “to clear his mind … but he knows he has to be ready. Hitters are allowed to go through rough patches. He’s not the only one going through one right now. We’re going to continue to support him, work with him and get him into good spots where he can contribute to winning games.’'
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