04/15/09 1:30 AM ET
Jackie's impact will be felt today
Robinson, scholars to be honored at 15 ballparks
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
On the 62nd anniversary of the day he crossed the color barrier in baseball and led millions of others to break through it not only in the sport but across American society, Robinson's legacy lives on in his credo: "A life is not important, except for the impact it has on other lives."Of course, some lives have been touched more directly than others. Tasha Byers is the daughter of a single mother who was a sharecropper and one of 19 children. Upon graduation from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota this spring, she is headed to the London School of Economics to pursue a graduate degree in Comparative Politics, focusing on development and democracy in Latin America. Her life has been touched by Jackie Robinson. Charles Fyffe, a junior at Cal, has helped build a community-based youth organization called Disciplined Respected Entrepreneurs (D.R.E.), an effort to bring together the best and brightest African-American college students specifically interested in becoming business leaders. His life has been touched by Jackie Robinson. Derek Jeter is a nine-time All-Star shortstop for the Yankees, and he'll be among the Major League players who on Wednesday will wear No. 42 on their jerseys in honor of the Hall of Fame baseball player who transcends the sport. His life has been touched by Jackie Robinson. All three are joined together in the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholarship program, which will be on center stage today in the celebrations across the country. At each venue, Jackie Robinson scholars will be honored in on-field ceremonies, standing alongside baseball heroes as achievers themselves. Last year, MLB made a major $1.2 million commitment to the Jackie Robinson Foundation over a four-year period to fund scholarships in the name of each of the 30 clubs. The initial investment was $300,000, representing 30 of the $10,000 scholarships. And this year, each club will have its scholar at the ballpark today. Jeter is the only active player currently funding his own scholarship, and it's clear he does so with his heart and his head. "I've gotten the opportunity to get to know [Robinson's] family throughout the years, and his wife [Rachel] and daughter [Sharon] are pretty special people. What they've done as a foundation is pretty remarkable," Jeter said. "Whatever we can do to help out, to me, was pretty much a no-brainer." And in the process helping out, the big brains like Byers and Fyffe get the opportunity to achieve. They're certainly not alone in being students helped along by Jackie Robinson Foundation. This year, the Foundation is providing support to 279 Scholars at 106 colleges and universities in 34 states. One of them is Akpanoluo Etteh. He's the Yale student from Natick, Mass., whose scholarship is funded by the Turn 2 Foundation, so Jeter gets to keep tabs on his progress toward a Cognitive Science degree. "You get to see the direct results," said Jeter, who attended the University of Michigan and has said he hopes to someday finish his degree. "If you give somebody a scholarship, you know that they're going to school and they're going to get an education. I know how important financial aid is when you're trying to go to school. "I check up on them, definitely, follow them and see how they're doing. The [graduation] percent rate they have is extremely high, and that's something that I know they're very proud of. I'm proud of the fact that I get to be associated with them." Today, every Major Leaguer on the field will have the chance to be associated with these scholars. This year's main celebration of Robinson putting on a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in a regular-season game for the first time, thus integrating MLB forever, is being hosted at Citi Field, the new home of the Mets. There will be ceremonies in all the other 14 ballparks across the nation as well. Festivities in New York will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET with the official dedication of Citi Field's Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which replicates the famous entry to Ebbets Field. Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, will represent Commissioner Bud Selig at the Rotunda dedication and the evening ceremony at Citi Field before the Mets play the Padres. He'll be joined by Rachel Robinson, New York Gov. David Paterson, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Fred Wilpon, the owner of the Mets, who grew up in Brooklyn as a devoted Dodgers fan and has long admired Robinson. The idea of "unretiring" Robinson's number belongs to Ken Griffey Jr., back with the Mariners this season. Two years ago with the Reds, Griffey personally petitioned the Commissioner for the opportunity to wear it, and this year Commissioner Selig made the request that all uniformed personnel do the honors. It's another way to show respect to the man whose legacy is so strong that the foundation that bears his name is helping not by the individual life, but by the generation. "We decided instead of having a building named or a street named for him, we'd start an active organization that would support the education of minority youngsters," Robinson said at the annual Networking Weekend last month. "That way, they'd be able to fulfill all of their dreams and also become leaders in various communities." Through that effort and the unique legacy he leaves on baseball, Jackie Robinson touches more and more lives every year.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Reporter Bryan Hoch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.