KC a stepping stone for Robinson

KC a stepping stone for Robinson

KANSAS CITY -- Jackie Robinson Day has added significance in Kansas City because the city was a stepping stone for his path to the Major Leagues.

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1945 before he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He did pretty well, too, hitting .345 for the Monarchs.

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Kansas City became home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, championed for many years by the late Buck O'Neil.

On Robinson's day, all of the uniforms of the Royals and visiting Indians bore his No. 42 in honor of the man who broke the game's color barrier with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

"Obviously he was before my time, but I grew up hearing stories of his heroics dealing with baseball and what he had to go through, what everybody back in those times had to go through," said Royals center fielder Coco Crisp. "He just did it in the spotlight of baseball."

"He paved the way for more minorities to have the opportunity to play the game today," Crisp added. "It's a tremendous thing that he put up with everything for the love of the game and to give others the opportunity in the future. So I guess you could say I'm a huge fan [of Robinson]."

Former second baseman Frank White, now a Royals broadcaster, grew up in Kansas City and heard tales of Robinson from his father, Frank White Sr.

"He was a big influence on my dad," White said. "My dad talked about him all the time, and my dad was in that era of the Negro Baseball Leagues, and he knew how important it was to get some of those black players into Major League Baseball."

White admired Robinson's influence beyond baseball.

"After leaving baseball, he got involved in civil rights. so he was a complete guy. He wasn't just a baseball guy who played the game, made his mark and went away. He took that and turned that into more of a civic and a social thing where he was more involved in the civil rights thing than most people in those days would have imagined," White said.

The Royals had longtime Major League pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant seated in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat for the Wednesday afternoon game. Grant followed in Robinson's footsteps to the Majors and in 1965 became the first African-American 20-game winner in the American League for the Minnesota Twins.

Grant, 73, wore a Monarchs uniform with No. 5, the number that Robinson wore in his season with the team.

"When his name is mentioned, it means a lot," Grant said, "and it triggers so many memories because Larry Doby signed right after Jackie and was the first African-American in the American League. Now the Cleveland Indians are here, and Larry and I were teammates and roommates with the Indians."

Grant has the idea that American League teams could someday wear Doby's retired Indians number, 14, as a tribute to him.

In a pregame ceremony, Royals Charities presented a $10,000 check to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. The check was accepted by Montoya Lewis, a foundation scholar. Royals Charities has granted a total of $40,000 over a four-year period to the foundation, which extends Robinson's commitment to education.

The crowd also viewed on Crown Vision a videotape that included highlights of Robinson's career.

Players from teams at Van Horn, Northeast and Central high schools circled the field as part of the event. They held a roundtable discussion with Grant and other former players at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Wednesday morning.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, located at 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Mo., has a special Robinson display of photographs and memorabilia on display now through Saturday.

"Next year, we hope to make this a city-wide celebration recognizing Jackie Robinson and also those who preceded him," said Bob Kendrick, the museum's vice president of marketing.

He noted that Robinson's connection with Kansas City and the Negro Leagues is often overlooked in the historical perspective of his life.

Robinson brought more than playing ability to the Majors.

"When you talk to Buck O'Neil and some of the ex-Negro League players, it wasn't that they felt he was the best player, he was just the guy with the right temperament to handle a lot of things that he had to go through to get this accomplished," White said.

Crisp hoped that one effect of Jackie Robinson Day would be to encourage more African-American youngsters to play baseball.

"The numbers of African-Americans is obviously low, so it would be nice to get some more promotions, and I think we are doing that in Major League Baseball with RBI [Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities] and other organizations to help with that," Crisp said.

Crisp is a graduate of the RBI program.

This was the first time that every Major Leaguer wore Robinson's number on his day of tribute, and Crisp endorsed the idea.

"There's no reason why everybody shouldn't wear it," he said. "It shouldn't be just one or two players or however many minorities or African-American players. It's fair enough that everybody can wear the number in tribute."

The last Royal to wear No. 42 as his regular uniform number was outfielder Tom Goodwin in 1997, the year the number was officially retired by Major League Baseball.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.