Submitted to the AFRO by William B. Robertson

Born and raised in Roanoke, Virginia, I am now 86 years old and live in Baltimore, Maryland during the warm months.  However, my wife and I flee to Tampa, Florida when it begins to get cold.  I taught American History at Sligh Middle School for ten years before moving to Baltimore.  Prior to teaching in Hillsborough County, I served as a teacher, principal and elementary supervisor in the Roanoke City School System.

My good friend in Tampa is fellow octogenarian and retired educator, Rigoberto Garcia, who is also a member of St. Peter Claver Church where we met and shared our many common interests.  Our conversations cover politics, religion and education, but mostly, we talk baseball, with emphasis on the Negro Leagues.  We lament the fact that legendary players such as Josh Gibson and Cool “Papa” Bell never made it to the majors because of a strict segregation system, but applaud teams such as the Baltimore Elite Giants, the Homestead Grays, Newark Eagles, New York Cubans, and Kansas City Monarchs.

FILE – This is an April 18, 1948, portrait of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson. The first statue in Dodger Stadium history belongs to Jackie Robinson. The team will unveil his likeness during Jackie Robinson Day festivities on Saturday, April 15, 2017, with his wife and extended family in attendance on the 70th anniversary of him breaking baseball’s color barrier (AP Photo/File)

We pay homage to Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro American, Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier and other black sportswriters of the time who led the fight to integrate major league baseball.

These conversations with my friend always lead us to our hero, as teenagers and now as adults, – number 42, Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play modern day major league ball.  He opened the 1947 season as a first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15th.

Last year, the conversations did not take place because Rigoberto had an accident that required rehabilitative care for a lengthy period of time.  With both of us in good health this past winter, we eagerly looked forward to April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, when the majors and the nation salute our hero by having all ball players wear Jackie’s retired number 42, and other observances take place.

My friend and I represent young black men and women from that era, when for the first time saw someone who looked like us hit the ball and run the bases as part of major league.  Indeed, we wanted to be like Jackie.  He taught us so very much – not to give up in spite of adversity, nor hostility.  Jackie was subjected to racial taunts, slurs and beanballs.  He was deliberately spiked; could not eat with the team or stay in the same hotel because of the color of is skin.

When Branch Rickey opened the door of the majors for Jackie to play, he asked him to endure the negatives and fight with his bat at the plate, his speed on the base path, and his glove on the field.  Jackie did so in a superb manner, leading the Dodgers to the National League pennant.  He led the league in stolen bases, batted above 300 and was named Rookie of the Year.

Upon retiring after ten years of brilliant play, Jackie was elected to the Baseball Hall of fame.  Not only did he change baseball, Jackie Robinson changed America.

Yes, we wanted to be like Jackie, but not all of us possessed his athletic skills.  However, we valued his quest for education.  He attended UCLA.  Rigoberto graduated from Tuskegee Institute (University); I earned a degree from Bluefield State College.  We applied Jackie’s lessons of perseverance, pride and confidence in self, be the best you can be; become positive contributors to society; and the fortitude to never quit in the classroom and to life in general.

Today, Rigoberto and I join with thousands of others from our generation to wish America,  baseball enthusiasts everywhere, and people of goodwill – A Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

William B. Robertson

400 E. Fletcher Avenue

Apt C-304

Tampa, Fl  33613

And

3206 Gartside Avenue

Window Mill, Maryland  21344

(813) 283-8589

Bigblue1954@icloud.com