ARLINGTON, TEXAS — In one of the highlights of his amateur career, Orioles right-hander Mychal Givens won the Jackie Robinson Award as the nation's top high school baseball player in 2008.
Friday marked yet another milestone, he said, as he and the rest of the Orioles donned Robinson's No. 42 on their jerseys as teams across baseball honored the major leagues' first African-American player on the anniversary of his big league debut.
"It's just an honor," Givens said. "It was really memorable when I was in high school, winning the Jackie Robinson Award. Now, being able to wear the number for the first time in the big leagues is more of an honor, to be able to remember just the history of Jackie Robinson, in allowing us African Americans to be able to play baseball."
When Givens, then a two-way prospect at out of Plant High in Tampa, Fla., received that award nearly a decade ago, he received it from Robinson's daughter, Sharon.
Givens has had the opportunity to wear Robinson's jersey in his time as a minor leaguer, but he said there's something different about doing it in the majors.
"It's a happy moment, having an appreciation for Major League Baseball to give memories of Mr. Robinson and what he accomplished and what he did for the African Americans," Givens said.
As happens every year on this occasion, questions were asked about why there's so few African Americans in the majors. According to USA Today, African Americans comprise eight percent of major leaguers, and just 3.1 percent of all pitchers.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter cited the inaccessibility of the game from a financial standpoint, as well as some of the difficulties in engaging young players and making the game fun for them.
Givens said the occasion to honor Robinson is a good step toward changing the game's demographics, but noted that the game does not "have that many African Americans is the sad part."
To combat that, Givens said he's active in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program that MLB sponsors in his native Tampa.
"In my community, I'm always trying to promote RBI and get more kids to come back and play the game again," Givens said. "I got to talk to Dave Winfield and learn his history when he played, and how many African Americans played back then. To be able to wear 42 and still honor that is really an accomplishment."
Around the horn
Left-hander Jeff Beliveau, who is recovering from labrum surgery, pitched two innings in a side session Friday and could get into an extended spring game Monday, Showalter said. While Beliveau still has a while to go before going to an affiliate for a rehabilitation assignment, Showalter said he was encouraged by the reliever's workload so far. … Outfielder/designated hitter Jimmy Paredes (sprained wrist) is also scheduled to play in an extended spring game Monday, Showalter said.