Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jones Humbled, Honored to Wear No. 42

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles honored Adam Jones Tuesday night by giving out 10,000 orange T-shirts with his name and No. 10 on the back. But Jones changed his number for this game.

The reason: Jones was the Orioles' representative to honor the late Jackie Robinson by wearing the No. 42 on the 61st anniversary of the day the Dodgers great broke the baseball color barrier in 1947. Major League Baseball also celebrated Robinson's memory around the league on Tuesday as a variety of players wore No. 42 as a tribute.

Jones and Orioles manager Dave Trembley first talked about the young center fielder wearing No. 42 for the team during Spring Training, and they cemented the deal last week in a conversation during a rain delay in Texas.

"I was just stunned at the opportunity I'm getting," said Jones, who also celebrated Robinson's legacy with a solo home run in the fifth inning on Tuesday. "I know a lot about him. I know his playing career was tremendous, but the way he carried himself and handled the ... racism that he faced outlasted all the on-the-field accolades."

Jones knew about Robinson but did some research to find out more, curious about what made this man great.

The center fielder wasn't interested in how Robinson stole bases or how he was able to play different positions and help the Brooklyn Dodgers in so many ways. Jones wondered about who Robinson was.

"I just try to know [Robinson] the person," Jones said. "I was interested in his on-the-field thing, but it was off the field that made him what he is. There's a lot of guys that had better numbers than him, but the name Jackie Robinson, every kid or every adult knows the name Jackie Robinson."

Trembley was very impressed with how much the 22-year-old knew and appreciated about Robinson.

"He impressed me as a young man that had an idea about the history of the game," Trembley said. "I live [in Daytona Beach, Fla.] and our ballpark in Daytona Beach is Jackie Robinson Stadium ... and he knew what that was, which impressed me."

Trembley loved Jones' response to his offer of wearing No. 42. Jones told the skipper that he was humbled and honored, and he felt that it was something that made sense, as it was also his mother's birthday.

"I just think the world of the guy," Trembley said.

Orioles first-base coach John Shelby, a longtime Major League player and coach, said that Robinson broke down many doors by doing what he did.

"It gave me an opportunity to play as well as many other African-American ballplayers, and what he went through, I'm not sure any of us would have been able to endure what he did," Shelby said. "It took a special man to do that, and without a doubt, he was the man."

Gary Thorne, the Orioles' television play-by-play voice, also has some deep feelings on Robinson.

Talking in the dugout during batting practice, Thorne sported a blue button from April 15, 2004 -- a previous Robinson day -- and discussed how some of his former broadcasting partners knew Robinson and heard some memorable stories.

"Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, they had met Jackie and knew who he was," Thorne said. "They got to hear the stories, some of them, about how tough it was, travel-wise in particular, and all he had to put up with and all the things that were said to him from the stands -- cruel, cruel, there's no other way to put it -- and how he stood up to those and what great respect they had for him, watching him go through all he did."

Thorne also brought up a sometimes-forgotten point -- that Robinson didn't exactly have the backing of other players in the game. Far from it, in fact, as Robinson heard about players' anger on a regular basis.

"There were a lot of players that didn't want it to happen," Thorne said. "They were racist. And there a lot who wondered whether this was going to work. This wasn't a fait accompli just because he walked out on the field. There were still people who still thought he may be here now, but he's not going to last, and there isn't going to be any other African-American black to play this game. So he had to battle all that as well."

But now, 61 years later, players and the game are celebrating. Toronto starters Frank Thomas and Vernon Wells wore No. 42, while Shannon Stewart wore it on the bench.

Jones was the lone Oriole to wear the number, and it was something that clearly meant a lot to him.

"There's still segregation in this country, but to the extent that he had to face, it's nowhere near it," Jones said. "Through the '80s and early '90s, there were a lot of African-Americans, [but] in recent years, the numbers have dropped. But in his day and age, he was the only one, so he was the token of everybody and he had to face all that stuff."


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