By Charles Hallman
The city of Sanford, Florida today is known as the place where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed. But almost 70 years ago, the city unfortunately earned another dubious distinction: Jackie Robinson wasn’t allowed to play there.
He was the only Black member of the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ AAA club, and Sanford was the parent team’s spring training site. Because Jim Crow also was intact at the time, the rookie Robinson wasn’t allowed to stay or eat anywhere his White teammates went in the town.
Reportedly, “a large group of White residents” went to the mayor and demanded that Robinson immediately leave town in 1946. Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey “moved the entire Dodger pre-season camp from Sanford, Florida to Daytona Beach due to the oppressive conditions of Sanford,” wrote the late Arthur Ashe in A Hard Road to Glory.
This weekend marks Robinson’s major league debut — April 15, 1947. His uniform number 42 has been permanently retired by every baseball team. This Saturday the Minnesota Twins are co-sponsoring a free youth baseball and softball clinic at North High School from 1-5 pm that is billed “[The] North Side Celebrates Jackie Robinson Day.”
“What better way to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson’s legacy than by having this clinic in that location, to get young African Americans to enjoy our game?” proclaims Twins Public Affairs and Community Fund Executive Director Kevin Smith.
Minnesota Twins RBI Director Frank White says that the four-hour clinic will feature skills sessions, free food and prizes, and appearances by author Ron Rabinovitz, who “will talk a little about [his book] Letters from Jackie. He had a relationship with Jackie Robinson,” notes White.
Ronnie Henderson will be among several former local baseball players to be in attendance at Saturday’s clinic, continues White. “We’re hoping by introducing him to kids in the community, people will talk to him about playing the game. He was a very good basketball player, but Ronnie was [also] an outstanding baseball player.”
The annual Breaking Barriers essay winners will also be announced Saturday, continues White.
The local major league baseball team has over the years made a financial commitment to the North Side, says White. “The Twins have put in additional money to upgrade and improve three fields on the North Side.”
“The North Side is one of our closest neighbors,” Smith told me while we were standing in the team’s three-year-old ballpark, located just over the Seventh Avenue bridge south of North Minneapolis. “We felt it was important to reach out to the neighborhood nearby here.
“The biggest legacy we can [create] on the North Side is to renovate those fields,” he says. “If we can help keep them clean and safe, that will attract kids and attract communities. I think the more we can do up there to help kids use these renovated ball fields…the better we all will be.”
Yet White says that, although he respects the Twins stepping up to help redo a total of five baseball fields in North Minneapolis, “I said to the Twins that it’s great to improve the fields, but if the kids can’t afford or are not thinking about purchasing a glove or don’t have baseball shoes or spikes, if they can’t afford those things, they won’t play. We need to get more equipment for the kids.”
White wants to see Saturday’s clinic overflowing, especially with Black kids. “We don’t want anybody to quit any sport. If a kid has a dream to play high-level basketball, you also can play baseball and softball,” he points out.
Fact: Jackie Robinson also played basketball before he became legendary in baseball.
Information from Dave Zirin’s weekly “Edge of Sports” column was included in this article.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.