By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Brad and Tameka Sanders already had a baseball-filled day Saturday. The McCalla couple had been on hand as their sons, 9-year-old Aubrey and 5-year-old Miles, each played a game for his respective little league Yankees and Tigers earlier in the day.
But their day Saturday would not be complete without joining a few hundred others at the Negro Southern League Museum for the 70th anniversary celebration of baseball great Jackie Robinson becoming the first black man to play in the major leagues.
Later in the day, the celebration shifted next door as the Birmingham Barons continued their tradition of Jackie Robinson Day when they hosted the Montgomery Biscuits.
Brad Sanders said he wants his sons to understand what Robinson and others went through so they can play the game today.
“Anything celebrating the Negro Baseball League or Jackie Robinson or any African American player, we try to talk to them about it and make them aware of it,” the father said.
It is a lesson that Aubrey, a third-grader at Advent Episcopal School, has taken to heart. Tameka Sanders said Aubrey, who wears 42 like Robinson when he plays, did a book report this school year on the baseball great.
“I purposely picked 42 because I am very inspired by Jackie Robinson,” Aubrey, a first baseman, said of Robinson, the first black in the major leagues. “I think that was a very cool thing and now I get the opportunity to play in the major leagues also.”
Little brother Miles plays second baseball. His jersey number 44 is inspired by former Atlanta Braves great Hank Aaron.
Jackie Robinson exhibits were particularly popular Saturday as former Negro League and Industrial League ballplayers milled about with other patrons at Negro Southern League Museum. Mayor William Bell was among the speakers, as was Mauri Robinson, a board member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, one of the largest educational foundations in the country.
Robinson, no relation to the baseball great, also wore 42 when he grew up playing baseball, first in Roosevelt City and then at Shades Valley High School.
“I played catcher and I wore the number 42 from the time I was 8 years old until 18,” he said. “I knew about Jackie Robinson at a young age. My father, James Robinson, educated me on who Jackie Robinson was. He told me about his plight and his struggle.”
Mauri, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Saturday’s game while wearing a 42 Barons jersey, considers himself a part of the former Brooklyn Dodger’s extended family. In 2004, he received a scholarship from the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
“If it was not for the Jackie Robinson Foundation, I would not have attended Morehouse College,” he said. “Upon finishing my degree four years ago, I was asked to serve as treasurer of the board. I’ve been in that position for the last four years.”
According to Mauri, every Ivy League school and a majority of liberal arts colleges in the country have students or alumni who have received scholarships from the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
“Annually, we give out millions of dollars to approximately 300 deserving high school students … who become part of one of the greatest networks known to man,” he said.
On Saturday, the number 42 was prominent in the Parkside District, especially on the diamond of Regions Field. All of the Birmingham Barons, including manager Julio Vinas, wore that number.
The Barons won the game, 5-2, aided by a second inning solo home run by designated hitter Keon Barnum.
“I think it’s pretty awesome, man, just to be able to wear a jersey (of) a legend, a hero and just celebrate his day,” Barnum said. “He set a platform for all races.”