Tribe, Rangers honor pioneer Robinson

Tribe, Rangers honor pioneer Robinson

CLEVELAND -- Tony Sipp grew up in a predominantly poor and predominantly black community in Mississippi dreaming of one day finding an escape from his surroundings.

For Sipp, that escape came on the baseball field. And the time he put in honing his craft has led him to a place in the Indians' bullpen.

"I try to make people in my hometown aware of the opportunities outside of Mississippi," Sipp said. "I try to tell people that you can come from the same predicament and situation I came from and make it somewhere."

But Sipp knows there was a time when a person with his skin color couldn't have made it in the big leagues. That's why he appreciates the opportunity given him here, and that's why donning Jackie Robinson's No. 42 for Thursday's game against the Rangers meant so much to him.

"This is his day," Sipp said of Robinson, who broke into the Majors with the Dodgers exactly 63 years ago. "We're paying homage to what he did and the sacrifices he made. It definitely feels inspiring to make the best of my opportunity because of him."

Every player, coach and manager in Major League Baseball wore Robinson's No. 42 for Jackie Robinson Day. And those who took the time to think about the struggle of breaking baseball's color barrier and the racial hatred Robinson had to endure truly understood what that number means.

Even years after Robinson retired, some of those struggles lived on. Rangers reliever Darren Oliver said his father, Bob, who spent eight seasons in the bigs between 1965 and '75, had to endure some of the same prejudices.

"Some of the stuff that happened back in the day was amazing," Oliver said. "I talked to my dad and some of the guys he played with, they tell me some of the stuff they couldn't do. They couldn't go out, they couldn't go to the movies. When my dad was in the Minors, he tried to go to the movies and they wouldn't let him.

"Just think how amazing it was for Jackie Robinson. Playing the game was probably the thing he enjoyed the most. The stuff off the field wasn't good, plus he was a good player. Nobody wants to deal with that kind of stuff off the field. He did. It takes a special passion."

MLB is passionate about keeping Robinson's legacy alive. That's why the league partners with the Jackie Robinson Foundation to provide college and graduate scholarships and leadership development opportunities for students of color. Nearly $10 million has been raised since MLB became involved with the JRF in 1982.

Before Thursday's game at Progressive Field, the Indians played a video on the left-field scoreboard that alerted fans to the anniversary of Robinson's first game and honored his life and career. The Tribe also invited four local minority business owners -- Renee Deluca Dolan of CDG, Barb Hoover of Fine Line Communications, Jim Groh of Brilliant Sign and David Walter of Industrial Video -- on the field for a pregame ceremony.

As Indians manager Manny Acta pointed out, Cleveland has played an important role in breaking baseball's color barrier, too. This was the place where Larry Doby became the first black player in the AL, and the place where Frank Robinson became the game's first black manager.

"Cleveland has a special place for the Jackie Robinson memory," Acta said.

Tribe left fielder Michael Brantley, the son of former big league outfielder and hitting coach Mickey Brantley, didn't need the reminder about the Robinson memory. He grew up hearing Robinson's name.

"I heard so much about him," Brantley said. "You idolize somebody like that. It blows my mind, what he went through. The mental grind of baseball alone is enough without having to go through what he went through."

For Sipp, baseball proved to be an outlet to make his dreams come true, and that's a message he passes along to the kids from his hometown. Whether it's baseball or some other avenue, Sipp has learned that, thanks to pioneers like Robinson, the possibility to find a better life is there for the taking, if you put in the work and put up with the difficulties.

"No matter what you want to be in life," Sipp said, "you're going to have to overcome obstacles."

Just like Jackie Robinson.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.