Youth in North Mpls celebrate baseball and Jackie Robinson 

John Bryant and his team
John Bryant and his team (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

On the first day of the annual three-day Major League Baseball All-Star break, six 10-and-under baseball teams honored the late Jackie Robinson, and all players wore his number 42 at North Commons Park in North Minneapolis Monday evening. The number is permanently retired except for one day each season when every MLB player wears the legendary number on their uniforms.

“The significance of today is a lot of kids want to know who Jackie Robinson was,” explained Jerry Gambles Boys and Girls Club Head 10U Baseball Coach John Bryant. “I was giving them feedback that he was a great leader on the baseball field — a mentor —and he wanted everybody to play together, to play the game of baseball.”

While no one was ignoring the tragic shootings that occurred in the area the previous week, this night was dedicated to kids having fun. “Everybody is enjoying each other,” reports Bonita Benton, whose 11-year- old son Derrion Benton is a member of the Hospitality House team.

“They [the kids] want to come and have fun. We want to give them a place of safety where they can be at peace,” said Mike Talley.

Mike Talley and Bonita Benton
Mike Talley and Bonita Benton (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

“Today [there] was a positive atmosphere. We had all three fields and teams from Bottineau, Folwell, Jerry Gamble, North Commons, Hospitality House and Windom. It’s good to have the kids wearing T-shirts and Twins baseball caps” said Bryant.

Talley told the MSR that in lieu of playoffs, Monday’s six-team affair served as a wrap-up for the season. The evening’s only downer was the postponing of showing the movie 42 outside at dusk due to the uncertain weather. It has been rescheduled outside at North Commons Park at dusk July 29, said Talley.

Nonetheless, a diverse range of families from different ethnicities came to watch their kids play baseball in the remaining hour or two before dark “in North Minneapolis, and there aren’t any problems,” added Talley. “This is what needs to be told,” he poined out. “These are the good things that can happen with our kids. Most people think that don’t happen around here.”

Kent Brevik, a Minneapolis Park Board playground specialist, told the MSR that the event also has been used in past summers to highlight Twins and other MLB Black players. “We’ve picked eight of the Twins most famous Black and Latin players: Carew, Oliva and Puckett,” he recalled.

This summer it’s Robinson (1919-1972) whose 1947 Major League debut finally smashed the decades-old color barrier that denyed Blacks the chance to play in the majors. Major League Baseball began Jackie Robinson Day on April 15 in 2004. On that day, all his players wear his number to honor the man’s memory and legacy.

northside bb 2 (1)
(Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Frank White, the Minnesota Twins RBI director, quizzed the kids beforehand, and asked why everybody is wearing the same number: “Two of the kids [said] ‘because it’s Jackie Robinson’s number.’ So I said, ‘Who he played for?’ and they said, ‘The Dodgers.’” White praised the coaches’ role in teaching their players about Robinson.

“To have this many kids out playing that might know about Jackie Robinson in this setting at North Commons where people think Black kids don’t play baseball,” said White. “It’s good to see kids playing at this age. Some of these kids will continue into high school. Who knows, [maybe there’s] another Dave Winfield or another Jackie Robinson here? Hopefully they will stick with it.”

“It’s a great day to be out here,” declared Bryant. “It gives kids in the inner city the opportunity to play [baseball].”

Added White, “Playing baseball in the heart of North Minneapolis — White kids and Black kids playing together. I think that’s very positive. Hopefully that will stimulate further relations as the kids grow up.”


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