April 15 is a mile marker for baseball and for me. Usually for me, it’s the last day of tax season. There’s a palpable relief when 5:00 rolls around and things get wrapped up. The long hours are past and we can breathe a little more. This year, of course, tax season is going to last until July 15 but the extra time also relieves a lot of the pressure. Things have been a little less crazy than normal for two weeks or so (once our office got somewhat back to normal following half of my coworkers picking up the coronavirus) and so today doesn’t quite have the same impact that it normally would.
Baseball’s big day may be slightly muted as well but it’s still going to be meaningful. On this day in 1947, Jackie Robinson trotted out to first base and made history. Not in the “first person to hit three homers and a double on a Tuesday” kinda history but real, significant, society-changing history. To have an African-American playing alongside white players is the kind of jolt we can’t really understand today, 73 years after the fact. Society has changed. It’s not perfect. Some of the same issues are still there. However, there’s no doubt that things are much different today than they were back in April 1947.
For years now, baseball has stopped to honor this pioneer. I remember watching ESPN my senior year in college when they were in New York for the inaugural Jackie Robinson Day, when his number was retired throughout the sport. A few years later, Ken Griffey Jr. called the commissioner and said he wanted to wear 42 for that day. That snowballed until everyone in the game, on this day, threw on a jersey with 42 on the back. No name, no other designation, just the 42. That was all anyone needed.
Today, of course, there’s no baseball. I don’t think all the players involved in that MLB The Show tournament are going to change their team to 42 (assuming they could–though that would be a cool feature if the game automatically did that on games of April 15). There will be articles and tributes, video clips and memories, but there will not be any games going on where people can tune in and hear about him. It’s going to be hard to focus on this history with the coronavirus still causing sickness and death in record numbers.
Which is as it should be, I guess. As we often say, sports have to take a backseat in the moment of crisis and history, even vital history like Jackie Robinson, may have to temporarily as well. However, I hope that for those hunkered down at home, quarantined from others, will take the time to read up on Jackie, maybe watch the movie 42, and just appreciate what he did and the changes he triggered.
Thank you, Jackie. Here’s to you on your special day.