WASHINGTON – Little Leaguers wore No. 42 to honor baseball legend Jackie Robinson as they faced off Sunday in a T-ball game on the South Lawn of the White House.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black major league baseball player.
“Jackie Robinson was a pioneer,” President Bush said before retiring Robinson’s number from South Lawn games.
The two Little League teams – the Inner City Little League Highlanders of Brooklyn and the Wrigley Little League Dodgers of Los Angeles – represented the two home cities of the Dodgers franchise. Both teams are part of the Little League’s Urban Initiative, which seeks to promote the game among inner-city kids.
Per South Lawn rules, there were no outs and no strikes in the one-inning game. Each player got a chance to bat a ball placed on a tee and round the bases. ESPN announcer Karl Ravech called the game’s play-by-play action.
The players were cheered on by base coaches Tommy Lasorda and Don Newcombe, Robinson’s former teammates.
Robinson was a great competitor, Lasorda told reporters.
“I never saw a guy that wanted to beat you like he did,” he said. “He could beat you with his glove. He could beat you with his legs. He could beat you with the bat.”
Lasorda remembered Robinson as a team player. “He didn’t play for the name on the back of the shirt. He played for the name of the front of the shirt,” he said.
Other former players from the major and Negro Leagues also attended the game.
“Imagine what baseball would have been like had you been a part of the major leagues,” Bush said as he welcomed the former Negro League players.
The steamy temperatures didn’t stop the crowd from showing their support for the athletes, who ranged in age from 5 to 8. First lady Laura Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Alphonso Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development, watched the matchup.
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first black manager of a major league team, served as the game’s honorary commissioner.
Bush, once a part-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, started the White House T-ball game in 2001 to promote interest in baseball and foster a spirit of teamwork and service.