Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bearing witness to Jackie Robinson Day in 1997

On April 15, 1997, the New York Mets hosted Jackie Robinson Night at Shea Stadium, where Major League Baseball forever retired Jackie Robinson's jersey number 42. Exactly fifty years prior, Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers against the Boston Braves in 1947, serving to shatter the line of segregation in the sport.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the game, as the Mets distributed tickets to local high schools to boost attendance. I remember an announcement being made that tickets were available and as soon as the bell rang for the next period, I went to the office to claim one. Excited to have my ticket in hand, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to bear witness to this historic event.

Media Gathering Around The Field at Batting Practice for Jackie Robinson Day April 15, 1997 / N. Diunte
Entering Shea Stadium for the game, there was a tremendous amount of security as President Clinton was in attendance. Seemingly at every turn in the stadium there was a Secret Service agent, constantly on the lookout for any potential sign of danger. On the field during batting practice, hordes of media gathered by the newly unveiled logo commemorating the event.


Jackie Robinson Day April 15, 1997 Shea Stadium / N. Diunte
During the fifth inning of the contest, Major League Baseball stopped the game for an unprecedented on-field ceremony that included a hobbled President Bill Clinton who was recovering from knee surgery, Rachel Robinson, commissioner Bud Selig, and a few of Robinson's former Brooklyn Dodger teammates. The President explained the significance of Robinson's legacy and why it was important that his number 42 was going to be permanently retired across Major League Baseball.

President Bill Clinton speaking during Jackie Robinson Day April 15, 1997 / N. Diunte

Taking in the game from the upper deck with hordes of other New York City high school students, there was a bond that evening that transcended team affiliations, knowing that we were all spectators to a historical baseball event, one worthy of the President's time and attention. Twenty years later, the annual on-going tributes to Robinson and the doors that he opened, serve to remind us just how powerful his impact was on  the game.

Special Commemorative Program From Jackie Robinson Day April 15, 1997 / N. Diunte

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