CNHI News Service
MOREHEAD, Ky. —
One of the first major league baseball games I saw in person as a young boy was when my beloved Cincinnati Reds hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers at Crosley Field.
I remember being considerably upset by the fact that the African American fans supporting the Reds gave their loudest cheers to a player for the Dodgers.
They cheered every time he came to bat or caught or threw the ball. And they gave him a prolonged standing ovation when he was introduced at the start of the game.
When the Reds’ black players did something important, those same fans responded with polite but less passionate cheers.
As I recall, I expressed my frustration to my uncle who said something about that Dodgers’ player breaking the color line.
Frankly, at the time, that didn’t mean much to a 10-year-old white kid from a small, all-white town in East Kentucky.
In my mind, it just wasn’t right for home team fans to cheer for the opposing team. I agreed that the man wearing No. 42 was a great player but he was playing for the Dodgers, not my Reds.
At my dad’s suggestion, I did some reading on Robinson’s life and learned that he and a baseball executive named Branch Rickey had teamed up to open the major leagues to black players.
That was obviously a good thing but I still didn’t fully realize why this man had been singled out by others of his race for such acclaim.
But all of those bits and pieces of information came together to make sense recently when I saw the new movie, “42,” about the life of Jackie Robinson.
It is clear why he is an iconic figure in the civil rights movement and a hero, then and now, to all fair-minded persons, regardless of color. Enduring racist taunts, threats and even physical pain is portrayed very realistically by Chadwick Boseman, a promising new actor.
“42” takes us up to and through his rookie season with the Dodgers as they captured the National League pennant and Robinson was named Rookie of the Year.
I was pleased to learn the details of how Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ great shortstop and a native of Louisville, befriended Robinson in the face of racist fans from his own state.
Jackie Robinson died too young at 53 but his courage and athleticism should be remembered forever by persons of all races.
Now I understand why the number 42 was retired by every team in big league baseball.
KEITH KAPPES is a columnist for the Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at email@example.com.