Trail blazer

The Baltimore Sun

April 15, 1947, dawned cold and gloomy in Brooklyn.

And the day never got much brighter for the Dodger who stood at the center of so much attention.

Rookie first baseman Jackie Robinson went hitless in four at-bats against Boston Braves offspeed specialist Johnny Sain. "I did a miserable job," his biographer, Arnold Rampersad, quoted Robinson as writing in a letter. "There was an overflow crowd at Ebbets Field. If they expected any miracles out of Robinson, they were sadly disappointed."

It doesn't sound like an afternoon that baseball lovers would be celebrating 60 years later. But Robinson triumphed that day simply by taking the field as the first black man to play in the major leagues in the 20th century.

His on-field brilliance would shine through soon enough.

Baltimore and 14 other major league cities will celebrate Robinson's legacy today. Every Dodger and at least one member of each of the other 29 teams will don his No. 42. His widow, Rachel, will appear with commissioner Bud Selig at a pre-game ceremony in Los Angeles.

Robinson's pioneering didn't begin with that April 15 game. He had agreed to break the barrier for Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey almost two years before. He had endured a minor league season in Montreal (where he debuted more spectacularly with four hits, including a three-run homer) and a three-game exhibition series against the New York Yankees at Ebbets Field.

He had played brilliantly in the face of threats (some of the worst showered on him by International League fans in Baltimore).

But his first big league game made Rickey's grand experiment real in a way that the bigots and doubters could never wipe away. Robinson showed immense resolve throughout that season, shaking off the jibes thrown at him by racist bench jockeys as he earned Rookie of the Year honors for his play.

Today we celebrate this great man and player. The Sun asked sports figures -- some who knew him and some who only know his legacy -- to reflect on Robinson.

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