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Worcester Red Sox welcome over 1,000 Worcester Public School students to 22nd annual Jackie Robinson Celebration of Life event

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February 4, 2024

With over 1,000 Worcester Public School students in attendance, the Worcester Red Sox hosted a virtual celebration of life on Wednesday, January 31, for the iconic baseball legend, Jackie Robinson, on what would have been his 105th birthday.

With over 1,000 Worcester Public School students in attendance, the Worcester Red Sox hosted a virtual celebration of life on Wednesday, January 31, for the iconic baseball legend, Jackie Robinson, on what would have been his 105th birthday.

In the 22nd consecutive year the Boston Red Sox organization has celebrated the Hall of Famer’s legacy, former ballplayers Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd and Mo Vaughn spoke about the importance of Jackie Robinson’s impact, along with Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick, WooSox bench coach José Flores, and club President Dr. Charles Steinberg.

Eighteen Worcester Public Schools were present on the Zoom call: Lincoln Street Elementary, Norrback Elementary, Thorndyke Road Elementary, Worcester Arts Magnet School, Canterbury Street School, Columbus Park Elementary School, Heard Street Elementary, Gates Lane Elementary, Quinsigamond Elementary, City View Elementary, Grafton Street Elementary, Chandler Elementary, Elm Park Elementary, Flagg Street Elementary, Jacob Hiatt Magnet Elementary, May Street Elementary, Midland Street Elementary, and Tatnuck Elementary.

Calling in from his home state of Mississippi, Boyd said all people of color can feel Jackie Robinson’s impact because he created the opportunity for all ballplayers to coexist and unite with people of other races.

“It was a long road for that to take place,” Boyd said. “Mo and I, and a lot of other ballplayers, we are very proud of what came from that and how Jackie did his diligence back in that period of time and the things that had to take place for us to be on the ballfield and be appreciated as the people that we are and the ballplayers that we are.”

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Hailing from Cidra, Puerto Rico, Flores offered a Latin American perspective on the change that Jackie Robinson put forth.

“Every time we get a chance to put on a uniform that has a major league organization on our chest, it’s an honor,” he said. “We owe that to Jackie and his legacy.”

Before Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he played in the Negro leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs. Legends Field was the home of the Missouri-based franchise, a ballfield just 20 minutes west of where the Negro League Baseball Museum is now located in Kansas City.

Named Negro League Baseball Museum president in 2011, Kendrick said to those in attendance that there are several parts of Jackie Robinson’s story that cannot be forgotten.

“We should never forget Jackie, but we should never forget the league that gave us Jackie—the Negro leagues,” he said. “It might have been another 10, 15, 20 years or more before another Black man would have gotten an opportunity to play in the major leagues. If it’s 20 years later, think about the great stars that we would have missed. We would have missed Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson. As we talk about Puerto Rico, the great Roberto Clemente. Can you imagine our sport without those stars?”

Although Boyd was the first major leaguer in his family, those who came before him played in the Negro leagues for many years, making him a fifth-generation professional ballplayer. He said his goal is to spread his family’s love of baseball inspired by Jackie Robinson.

“[My] family tree is still down here, and I’m trying to dig it up and replant it all over again and try to get the families back into the little league ballgame, back to the ballpark to come and watch their babies play, to understand the history of the game of baseball and what it means to the African American community and just people of color in general that play baseball,” he said. “We are all descendants of those ballplayers. We just want to uproot it and bring it back and show that we are a part of America’s pastime as much as anybody else.”

Mimicking Boyd’s sentiment, Vaughn said Jackie Robinson’s experience provided opportunities for people to work together, be together, and understand people of all backgrounds can “play together and do great things.” Vaughn was the last Boston Red Sox player to wear #42 before the number was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997. Now working with youth baseball programs in Florida, he said it is his job to share the information that was given to him with young ballplayers.

“My job is to go out and show the history, all sides of history,” Vaughn said. “The Negro leagues side of history is just as important as any side. To recognize all of those ballplayers that came before us and try to coach, live, and teach, and make better young people used to the game.”

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To all the Worcester Public School students in attendance, Steinberg emphasized Jackie Robinson’s story and that with ability and determination, any dream can be accomplished.

“Society moves slowly, and it can be really frustrating, but it does move, and we who have lived our lives loving baseball and loving baseball’s role in changing society are going to be passing the torch to you,” he said. “You’re going to be continuing the struggle to make sure that children all play together, all work together, all live together, are kind to each other. That’s the message. Jackie Robinson helped start a movement to let all of you who are seated there be able to sit together and play together and have lunch together. It’s going to be you who takes it to the next generation.”

In celebration of Jackie Robinson’s perseverance and contribution to breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Kendrick left the students with a meaningful remark.

“For those who believe that one individual cannot spark change, you need to look no further than Jackie Robinson.”