Jackie's debut celebrated in Philadelphia
Legendary baseball pioneer honored on 63rd anniversary
PHILADELPHIA -- In the Phillies' dugout before Thursday's game against the Nationals, a souvenir was passed back and forth between center fielder Shane Victorino and first baseman Ryan Howard.
It was a sturdy wooden bat, well-worn, with a crack along its side -- an authentic game-used 1953 Jackie Robinson bat. And as each player held it, they marveled at the moment.
"It just kind of gave me chills," Victorino said.
The bat was part of Philadelphia's celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, to honor the 63rd anniversary of Robinson's Major League debut. Every player, coach and manager across baseball wore Robinson's retired No. 42.
"I think that's the ultimate tribute, to have everybody across the league honor Jackie Robinson in that way," Howard said. "I think it's an honor for all of us, the way that he's changed not only baseball, but America."
Only in Philadelphia, though, was such a piece of baseball history on display. Hunt Auctions unveiled the Robinson bat -- from a 1953 matchup between the Dodgers and Giants -- and will display it at its retail store in the 126 section of Citizens Bank Park for the weekend. The bat will be auctioned off at the 2010 All-Star Game and is expected to sell for $30,000-$40,000.
It's one of only three game-used Robinson bats in Hunt Auction's possession and features part of Robinson's No. 42 in black ink at the end of the knob.
Victorino had no idea such an item would be around Thursday. But he leapt at the chance to hold it.
"That's history," Victorino said. "That's not something a lot of people get to do. I feel privileged just to be able to put my hands on it. Like I said, that's history."
For Nationals outfielder Willie Harris, who like Robinson is from Cairo, Ga., he's developed a deeper understanding for what Robinson endured in breaking baseball's color barrier.
"It seems like every year is different because I mature more and I understand more about the things he went through to pave the way for myself and for all the minorities in the game," Harris said.
"Jackie paved the way for all of us. I can only imagine all the things he may have gone through. He just kept right on pushing through it. That's kind of the way I am. No matter what the circumstances are, I just keep pushing. I think a lot of it has to do with Jackie. We are from the same place. He didn't live there long, but that is his birthplace. That is where he is from."
Said Nationals outfielder Nyjer Morgan: "Jackie Robinson means everything to me. I wouldn't be playing if the guy didn't break the barriers. It's a special day as an African-American just to play in this game. He paved the way for guys like me, Ryan Howard, Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina -- all of us African-Americans. I wish I could create a time machine and go back in time just to see everything he dealt with."
Other festivities included the honoring of players from the Philadelphia Stars Negro League team, the honoring of several members of the famed Tuskeegee Airmen who fought in World War II, a video tribute and the announcement of the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship to University of Pennsylvania student David Thomas.
Phillies righty Nelson Figueroa, in his 10th Major League season, has seen his share of Jackie Robinson Days and understands the necessity of setting aside a day to commemorate one of baseball's iconic figures.
"It's the least they should do for someone who's changed the game the way he has," Figueroa said, "and influenced a whole generation of Americans to be baseball players and inspired America as far as its acceptance in breaking the color line."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Ladson contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.