ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay area is celebrating the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic major league debut.
Robinson’s number, 42, was retired in 1997. Seven years later, Jackie Robinson Day was established to honor and celebrate his legacy. On April 15, 1947, Robinson took to the field as the first black player in modern baseball history on opening day.
The historic moment was a turning point for the sport and the nation as Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As the first black Mayor of St. Petersburg, Mayor Ken Welch is a trailblazer, too. On Friday, he signed the 5,000 baseball at the St. Petersburg museum of history.
“I made a little message of progress, and it really signifies how far we’ve come out of the city and as a nation since Jackie Robinson broke that color barrier,” Mayor Welch said.
The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of autographed baseballs, including a baseball signed by Robinson himself.
“We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” he wrote.
The Mayor wore a Rays jersey with Robinson’s retired number 42. It’s the only uniform number to be retired across the sport. During Robinson’s baseball career, he was rookie of the year, led the dodgers to six world series, and one world series championship. He was also inducted into the national baseball hall of fame in a 10-year span.
“We all have something to give to our society and it should be based on equity and inclusion and equal opportunity,” Welch said.
Over in South St. Pete, the Tampa Bay Rays honored this day with the creation of the 16th street community garden.
“A free service is the south side of St. Pete providing free nutrition to an area that is currently a food desert and that really transcends what Jackie would have wanted,” said Stephen Thomas, Rays DEI senior director.
The Rays are also investing $100,000 to support five local nonprofits committed to ending systematic racism in Tampa Bay. The Rays Baseball Foundation and Rowdies Soccer Fund established the grant program in 2020.
The recipients of the Racial Equity Grant Fund that will each receive $20,000 for local programs include: Arts Conservatory for Teens, Brain Expansions Scholastic Training, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, Pace Center for Girls Hillsborough County and The Skills Center.
“Courage, determination, teamwork and I think we really wanted to honor his legacy by giving back to the community here,” Thomas said.
The Rays are in Chicago to open a three-game series with the White Sox Friday night. All players and coaches will wear Robinson’s iconic uniform Number 42 on their jerseys.
On Saturday, the Rays will host a community event at Belmont Heights Little League, a historic league in East Tampa that serves more than 300 youth ballplayers. The Rays will donate equipment and provide free concessions for guests. It’s will take place fom 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2102 West Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard in Tampa.
Before the Rays game on April 22 at Tropicana Field, all fans will receive a Jackie Robinson No. 42 hat, while supplies last.