Diamondbacks celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, Alek Thomas appreciative to help youth event

Apr 15, 2024, 8:38 PM

Chase Field...

Jackie Robinson Day outreach clinic welcomes 100 kids from the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church at Chase Field on April 13th, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Anna Carrington/Arizona Diamondbacks)

(Photo by Anna Carrington/Arizona Diamondbacks)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Alek Thomas remains on the injured list, but he had an impactful duty on the diamond Saturday morning.

Thomas was a guest coach for a free Jackie Robinson Day clinic hosted by the Diamondbacks Baseball Academy at Chase Field. Thomas worked with 100 players from the Boys & Girls Club of the Valley and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in honor of Monday’s holiday.

“Jackie Robinson Day and everything going around that is special,” Thomas said. “Being Black and Hispanic and being a part of that, helping out the kids and telling them my story and helping out the camps is special and something I want to do.

“It’s a privilege to be out here. At one point, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to be on the field. I’m really thankful that Jackie Robinson did what he did.”

Jackie Robinson Day commemorates the late Hall of Famer and American icon’s debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, when he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier after more than 50 years of segregation.

Each year, players on every team wear his No. 42, which MLB retired in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s rookie year.

The Diamondbacks hosted the Chicago Cubs on Monday, and before the game, manager Torey Lovullo shared his connection to Robinson as a fellow UCLA Bruin.

“Jackie Robinson represents so much,” Lovullo said. “To me personally, having gone to UCLA, I have a very strong connection to him just because of that association. (Jackie’s wife Rachel) Robinson would come to a lot of the baseball games and our head coach at UCLA, Gary Adams, would always have us go and spend time with her, say hello to her, acknowledge her presence. She was a great baseball fan and loved UCLA baseball. So I always felt that very strong connection to Jackie Robinson.

“When you dig a little deeper, he was a catalyst for necessary change in this game and I look at him as somebody who was extremely courageous to step out and do something for a greater cause. This game has changed because of him and I’m grateful for that.”

Lovullo’s former Seattle Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. was a driver of Jackie Robinson Day becoming what it is.

Griffey asked then-commissioner Bud Selig to wear No. 42 on the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s first game in 2007, as he did back in 1997. The league extended the offer to other players to pay tribute, and two years later everyone donned the number.

“If anything stands out to me (about past Jackie Robinson Days), it was Junior making a stand,” Lovullo said.

Pregame festivities at Chase Field included a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem, from the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Choir. The Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year winners were recognized, and the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation presented two scholarships of $4,200. The East Valley United Black Firefighters also received an ovation.

Jackie Robinson Day around the league

Rachel Robinson, at 101 years old, visited Citi Field for the New York Mets’ celebration, as did her son David. Busro Robinson, Jackie’s grandson, threw out the first pitch.

At Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers and Nationals met up pregame wearing their No. 42 jerseys at Robinson’s statue outside the gates in what Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts told reporters was a new tradition. Players heard from guest speakers, including former big leaguer Reggie Smith and civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards.

Sonya Pankey, Robinson’s granddaughter, threw the first pitch and spoke at the Trailblazer Series for girls at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach.

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Diamondbacks celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, Alek Thomas appreciative to help youth event