LOS ANGELES -- Jimmy Rollins played high school baseball at Willie Stargell Field in Alameda, California. Forty years before Rollins came out of Encinal High, the school produced the field's namesake and Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. So, in a way, Rollins stood on Stargell's shoulders to build a career that has included an MVP award and three All-Star appearances.
A decade after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, Stargell ran into racism in the minor leagues at small-town stops in Texas and New Mexico in the late 1950s, describing them in his autobiography as "dust, ghost towns, pueblos, plazas and a deep racial hatred toward Negroes."
On the 68th anniversary of Robinson's breakthrough -- and before playing in Major League's Baseball annual Civil Rights game -- Rollins, 36, talked about the honor of representing the organization that signed and promoted Robinson. Rollins was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this past winter after 15 seasons in Philadelphia.
"The world has changed in so many ways, but in a lot of ways it's still the same," Rollins said. "You still have issues with racism in today's society. That was one thing Jackie was fighting against. There are those who still fight today for civil rights. It seems like ancient history, but if you look at the times and how long the world has been around, it wasn't that long ago. My parents and my grandparents, definitely, went through it and got to see Jackie break through, and the world is better for it today."
Robinson made his debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
Dodgers partner Magic Johnson, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Robinson's widow, Rachel, 92, all attended a news conference before Wednesday night's game. The team also announced it will be erecting a statue of Robinson at 53-year-old Dodger Stadium. It's the first commemorative statue of its kind at the stadium. Dodgers president Stan Kasten said other statues will follow, but he offered no further details.
"If not for him, I wouldn't be sitting here as a Dodgers owner today," Johnson said. "I think if he were here, he'd be smiling."