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04/15/08 11:27 PM EST

Dodger Stadium hosts Robinson Day

Diverse guest list reflects depth of legend's indelible legacy

LOS ANGELES -- Though the Dodgers' celebration of the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier wasn't the first to take place on Tuesday, it was certainly as meaningful and emotional as any.

Calling upon their long history and personal attachment to Robinson, the Dodgers welcomed to Dodger Stadium those whose lives had been touched by Robinson, starting with the master of ceremonies for the evening's tribute, actor Lou Gossett Jr., who grew up watching Robinson as a Dodgers fan in Brooklyn.

"If it wasn't for Jackie, I wouldn't have aspirations of being better and growing and having the ambitions for what I do," Gossett said.

"I was very privileged to have met Jackie early in my playing career," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "We happened to be at the same function in New York and I shook his hand and it was quite memorable for me."

After showing remembrances of Robinson from other Dodgers greats on the Diamond Vision, Gossett introduced Nicolette Robinson, a Jackie Robinson Scholar winner at UCLA, who sang "God Bless America." Ten-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Khan followed with the national anthem.

The crowd was then treated to a highlight reel of Robinson's achievements on the field, which led him to the Hall of Fame. Finally, Dodgers great and Robinson teammate Don Newcombe joined Robinson's niece, Kathy Robinson Young, in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

The Dodgers took the field with each player wearing Robinson's No. 42 on his back. The visiting Pirates -- along with seven other Major League clubs and a handful of individual players around baseball -- also paid tribute to Robinson in by donning his digits.

Pirates Manager John Russell though it was a great tribute on the part of Major League Baseball.

"I think it shows that baseball really cares about it," Russell said. "I think it's great that we are all wearing it. I think it shows uniformity with the Dodgers and with the Pirates and within baseball that we all recognize what he did for the game of baseball is special."

Xavier Nady showed that even though he is generations removed, he understood what Robinson meant to baseball and America.

"I think the guys should wear that number with pride and be very thankful that they have the opportunity to wear it," Nady said. "It's a special day. It's special to have the opportunity to wear it.

The game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off throughout the season to benefit the Dodgers Dream Foundation.

Before the game, Torre reminisced about his boyhood as a Giants fan in New York when Robinson broke in.

"When he got to the big leagues, I was 7 years old. I probably never enjoyed watching him play because I wasn't rooting for his team," Torre said. "But obviously, I always respected what he brought to the table. He was quite a special player."

Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform number 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.

Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson, his widow, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources. Additionally, the Breaking Barriers program utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.

Glenn Rabney is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.