DENVER — Cubs manager David Ross’ phone buzzed with a text from Jason Heyward on Thursday night. On the eve of Jackie Robinson Day, the veteran outfielder sent a group message to the team.
Within the text, Heyward provided a link for anyone willing to donate to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier, and the league-wide celebration provided a platform for continuing to move the game forward.
“I thought that was really powerful,” Ross said. “It’s just the awareness of the bigger picture and the people who have come before, broke boundaries and barriers to help us have the game we have today. It’s pretty special.”
It is a day bigger than anything that happens on the baseball diamond. The Cubs dropped a 6-5 decision to the Rockies at Coors Field Friday night, but the result felt secondary to the annual recognition of Robinson’s legacy.
Getting the start for the Cubs was righty Marcus Stroman, who has a tattoo of Robinson on his right calf, along with the words, “only love can do that.” On the third-base line was Cubs’ third-base coach Willie Harris, who shares Robinson’s birthplace of Cairo, Ga.
The celebration extended into the Minor Leagues, as Triple-A Iowa posted a photo of Cubs top prospect Brennen Davis also donning a “42” jersey in Robinson’s honor. Jeremiah Paprocki — the first Black public address announcer in Cubs history — also shared a photo of himself wearing Robinson’s number on Friday.
Heyward joined a group of players involved with the Players Alliance who donated their full salary from Friday to help charity programs around the country. Prior to Friday’s game, the outfielder also noted how the Players Alliance has helped with the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholars program.
The Cubs plan on honoring Robinson with a celebration at Wrigley Field — the only current ballpark in which the Dodgers legend played a game — during Monday’s series opener against the Rays. Some of the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars will be recognized on the field before the game.
“It’s all about action taking place,” Heyward said. “African-American players, a lot of people, media, at every level of this game, ask the question: How do you make changes? How do you do better in this area?
“Well, today is just another day to bring awareness. It gets people on the same page. The Players Alliance, we do a lot of special things with this. We work hand in hand and are partners with the Jackie Robinson Foundation, with their scholars. We’ve put computers in their classrooms. We do virtual communication with them, have them out to the field.
“For us, it’s just a special way to pay homage on this day. If we’re not thinking about giving back or donating something, bringing awareness on a day like today, then what’s the point of today?”
Heyward said the message behind the Jackie Robinson Day celebration extends beyond that, too.
The outfielder mentioned the growing number of women breaking barriers around baseball, including Giants Major League assistant coach Alyssa Nakken becoming the first woman to coach on-field when she assumed first-base duties on Tuesday.
“Opportunities like that sometimes go unnoticed,” Heyward said. “But I think we’re doing a much better job of having communication, having those conversations and dialogue and shining a light on positive changes and progress we’re making in baseball.”
Of course, Stroman would have preferred to perform better — he allowed five runs in a 41-pitch fourth inning and was tagged with the loss, his first as a Cub — but that did not take away from the importance surrounding the day. It was the first time in his career that he was able to wear Robinson’s number, and that carried a lot of weight for Stroman.
“To pitch on this day, it’s my first time that I was able to pitch with the ’42’ on my back,” he said. “It definitely has a lot of culture, a lot of history there. And I couldn’t be more proud to have donned that jersey out there.”
Stroman also hopes people reflect on Robinson’s legacy beyond just this annual anniversary.
“Jackie Robinson deserves more than one day,” he said. “I pray that people keep him in their minds, what he did, the trailblazer, the pioneer that he was. I hope it’s not just a one-day-and-gone kind of thing. I hope people truly remember and give thanks.”