Notes: Patterson to proudly don No. 42
Payton's return uncertain; Ripken to throw out first pitch
NEW YORK -- It's not just any day, and it's not just any number.
Several players around the league will wear No. 42 on April 15 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who made his Major League debut and broke baseball's color barrier on that date 60 years ago. Center fielder Corey Patterson will get the honor of wearing Robinson's number, which is the only jersey retired league-wide.
"It means a great deal to me," said Patterson, who like Robinson is a Georgia native. "Because obviously, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in this locker room right now. In all the other sports, who knows if all the African-Americans would be playing as well. For the struggles he had to go through, I can only imagine.
"People always ask me if in my life there was one person I could [choose] to talk to, and it would be him. Baseball's a very mental game, and not only did he have to worry about playing the game, but also the stuff ... off the field. I'd want to see how he dealt with that and how he stayed strong mentally."
Patterson said that there's really no way for modern players to understand the atmosphere Robinson lived in, but he briefly touched on another social issue facing the game. When asked about the dwindling number of African-American players in Major League Baseball, he opined that it's really a function of a few factors.
"Just to name a few, I think a lot of African-Americans grew up wanting to play basketball and football," he said. "I think that MLB needs to do a better job of scouting African-Americans in the city instead of putting all the money into the Latin places. They could do the same thing here. But I'm not going to blame Major League Baseball.
"It has to be a two-way street. As African-Americans, we have to be willing to accept the game. And MLB has to be able to reach out and find a happy medium. I think it's not either side's fault."
Patterson also said that he has limited involvement with the RBI program, which is designed to revive baseball in the inner cities.
Manager Sam Perlozzo expressed admiration for the league's plan to honor Robinson and said that it was something the individual players would hold close to their hearts.
"It's a great deal," Perlozzo said. "He's somebody special to a lot of people in the game. Period. Actually, all of us. The guys that get a chance to do it have to feel really honored that they get that opportunity."
Fresh legs: Left fielder Jay Payton is still unsure as to whether he'll be able to return from a left hamstring injury by April 11, the day he's eligible to be activated from the disabled list. The veteran said that he's been able to take batting practice and throw the ball around, but he hasn't been able to do any running.
The Orioles would like to see Payton run in the next few days, weather permitting, but he is likely ticketed for a Minor League rehab stint before he comes back to the big leagues. For now, he just wants to be completely healthy.
"I'm going to come off when I feel good and I'm ready to play and I feel like I don't have to worry about it the rest of the year," Payton said. "I don't want to try to come off of [the DL] on the 11th [just] because that's the day I'm supposed to come off, and then hurt it that day and miss a month. If I have to wait another two or three days based on what the trainers are telling me, then I'll do whatever. Like I said, I've been progressing pretty well."
Behind the mask: Ramon Hernandez, Baltimore's regular catcher, is nursing a strained left oblique and still hasn't been able to take batting practice. Perlozzo said that if Hernandez isn't able to swing a bat or play by the end of the weekend, then the Orioles will seriously have to consider placing him on the disabled list.
"It's not an ideal situation up to this point," said Perlozzo, who has been using Paul Bako as his starter. "First of all, we have to get him to swing the bat a little bit, which he hasn't done. That would probably be a soft-toss and a tee thing, and then he'd have to progress. We're being real careful with him. We just don't want to lose him for long time."
Hernandez has been able to run without pain, which he classified as progress from the way he felt last week, but he had no opinion about when he'll play again or whether the disabled list would be a good idea. He hasn't played since March 30, which means that if he does go on the DL, he can return on April 15.
"It's close, [but] they don't want to take a chance that I take one swing and then go all the way back," Hernandez said. "I think they want to make sure that when I swing the bat, I have no pain at all. Whatever they decide, it will be the best for the team and for me. I think they just want me to get healthy and when I come back be totally good.
"They don't want me to put me in a game and then go out because of the same spot."
Festivities: Franchise icon and Hall of Fame electee Cal Ripken Jr. will throw out the first pitch at Baltimore's home opener on Monday. The national anthem will be sung by American tenor Richard Troxell, who has sung the anthem for the last four home openers.
Quotable: "I think we all know, but at the same time, we really don't know. Because until you've actually been through something to experience it, you really don't know. That's how I look at it." -- Patterson, on whether the modern player understands what Robinson went through in breaking the color barrier
Coming up: The Orioles and Yankees will play the middle act of their three-game series on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Steve Trachsel will make his Baltimore debut, and the Yanks will counter with Kei Igawa, who will be making his Major League debut after a career spent exclusively in Japan.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.