MIAMI — Marlins bench coach James Rowson is more of a pullover guy on gamedays. But on Jackie Robinson Day, he proudly wears the club’s jersey with No. 42 on the back.
Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and also the 25th anniversary of then-Commissioner Bud Selig’s announcement that Robinson’s No. 42 would be retired across MLB. Since 2009, every player, coach and manager has donned No. 42 on April 15. This year, the 42 is featured in Dodger Blue, regardless of a team’s colors.
“First and foremost, it’s an honor,” Rowson said. “For me, I wake up every day on Jackie Robinson Day and truly reflect on all the opportunities I’ve been given in the game. None of these are possible without Jackie’s sacrifice. I look at Jackie Robinson Day really as a baseball holiday, but it’s more like a life holiday, a life lesson. He changed the world. He didn’t just change baseball, he changed the world for Black men to realize that we could realize our dreams.
“These days I think about my dad and the sacrifices that he did for me growing up. It’s an emotional day because it brings a lot of things together, and just proud that we are where we are. We’re at a point in society where everyone’s voice is now being heard. You’re able to speak your mind, you’re able to let the world truly know who you are as a person, and you don’t have to hide anything. I think this day really reflects that and allows people to be people, and hopefully we can continue to just grow.”
Rowson, who was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., attended high school in the Bronx and was selected in the ninth round of the 1994 MLB Draft. He spent three seasons in the Minors and another in the independent Heartland League before his playing career ended. This year marks his 20th season coaching at the professional level, and his third as Marlins bench coach. Manager Don Mattingly handed over pregame and postgame interview duties to Rowson as a symbolic gesture. Rowson did fill in for Mattingly, who caught COVID-19, during a two-week stretch last year.
“I’ve had an opportunity to be a bench coach now in this game, and to be a Black man and be in that position, I realize that that’s a big honor,” Rowson said. “And I’ll look to my right and I’ll see [hitting coach] Marcus Thames, and there’s two Black coaches on the same staff on a Major League club. I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of him, and I’m proud of the game. Our game has allowed these things to happen, and people can see this. So it’s pretty cool.”
It’s a scenario Rowson, 45, couldn’t have envisioned as a kid. Back then, there was a singular focus on playing baseball and not the other avenues the game could provide. In 2022, Black players make up only 7% of all MLB players.
As an organization, the Marlins on Friday hosted City Year Miami Learning & Development Day for 80 City Year corps members who are dedicated to the education of at-risk youth in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The group participated in a training and skill-building session, with Robinson’s nine values as the theme. The Marlins also hosted approximately 100 young female baseball players from USA Baseball and MLB’s Trailblazer Series, connecting the players with general manager Kim Ng.
On Monday, Northwestern and North Miami Beach Senior High Schools will take the field at loanDepot park for the inaugural Jackie Robinson Classic. The students will receive customized Marlins shirts in their respective school colors with the number 42 and one of Robinson’s nine values on the back. The event is open and free to the public.
“As you get older, you start to realize the significance of all these different things that can happen, and you realize how special these moments are and how special these days are,” Rowson said. “I think there’s a level of responsibility for people like me and people like Marcus and players now to pass that baton and pass that torch to the next group of players, the next group of coaches, so that this legacy is never forgotten. It’s only made stronger over the years. I feel like the generations before us have done such a great job of honoring Jackie and making sure that we know what Jackie did for us. I feel like it’s our responsibility to do the same for the next generation as well.”