Teams across Major League Baseball celebrated the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in professional baseball on April 15. While in Kansas City that day, Detroit Tigers Center Fielder Akil Baddoo visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and sported a pair of custom Jackie Robinson-themed cleats during the Tigers-Royals game. Baddoo, along with the rest of the team also wore Robinson’s number – 42 – on their jerseys and socks. Upon returning home to Detroit, the Tigers honored Jackie Robinson Day on April 19 at Comerica Park.
Beyond paying homage during the game, the Tigers honored Robinson off the field.
Engaging young fans in the celebration, the Tigers hosted the annual Jackie Robinson Art Challenge. The contest encouraged Metro Detroit youth 18 and under to create a piece of art incorporating one or more of Robinson’s nine values: citizenship, commitment, courage, determination, excellence, integrity, justice, persistence and teamwork.
The winners include:
- 1st place – $1,500: 12-year-old Javier Espino, a student at Power Middle School in Farmington Hills
- 2nd place – $750: 14-year-old Asia Parnell, a student at Farmington High School in Farmington
- 3rd place – $250: 15-year-old Delaney Parker, a student at Dexter High School in Dexter
The top three finalists were acknowledged before the Tigers game on April 19.
Also before the game, the team hosted 42 area high school baseball and softball players for a panel discussion focusing on diversity in sports featuring members of the Tigers’ front office.
With Jackie Robinson breaking color barriers on the baseball field, he also opened doors for opportunities for diversity in the sport’s front office. As Devin Gardner of Bally Sports Detroit moderated the panel, he discussed the variety of career opportunities in professional sports, many of which the student attendees weren’t aware of.
“None of these opportunities would be possible, had it not been for Jackie Robinson and his courage,” said Gardner, who encouraged students to look beyond the field, signaling to the panel. “There are a lot of athletes in here. You can do whatever you want to do: you can be a professional athlete; you can not become a professional athlete. You can become a coach; you can work in the finance office; you can be around sports, and there’s a job for you, if you really want to.”
Describing their roles with the Tigers, the panelists discussed the fun that’s in working in professional sports. “Having the opportunity to talk to players and coaches on a daily basis – I see them as my little brothers, they see me like [their] big brother. It’s a blessing,” said Carlos Guillen, Bilingual Media Relations Coordinator.
Getting to work behind-the-scenes of the sport and with the players on the team is an added perk, added panelist Ashley Robinson. “I love that I have a job where I connect with them and get to understand who they are, and then convey that story to you all so you all can see the person, not just their [jersey] number.” said Robinson, who is Manager of Fantasy Camp and Player and Alumni Relations. “You’re rooting for them that much more, because you know who they are, you know how much work they put in, you know that they care about the ‘D’ that they wear.”
As someone who grew up watching baseball with his father, Manager of Community Impact, Matthew Williams explained that he often seeks baseball and softball players to potentially work with him. “[Baseball and softball players] know how to deal with failure, and with baseball, you have to deal with eight other personalities on the field, not including the bench or your coaches,” said Williams, who compared baseball to real life when working with others.
As students asked question after question, the final one proved to be the greatest lesson for all in attendance: “Have you ever failed?” The panelists agreed: too many times to count, but it’s how you handle it that defines you, because there’s always someone watching you.
“Think about how you want to carry yourself,” said Corey Bell, Buyers, Purchasing and Supplier Diversity. “…because you’re Jackie Robinson.”