The Washington Nationals on Saturday honored Jackie Robinson on their Black Heritage Day 70 years after he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
In honor of the baseball pioneer, the Nationals recognized Washington Informer Spelling Bee winners from the District and Prince George’s County and scholars from the Jackie Robinson Foundation to illustrate their connection to his legacy.
“These kids work hard,” said Shawn Bertani, the Nationals’ executive director for player and community relations. “We know they practice a lot and they get up in front of people and it can be nerve-wracking and they really accomplish something.”
Margaret Isacson of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Northwest and Kelly Han of Buck Lodge Middle School in Prince George’s County made a pit stop at the home plate of the Nationals before they compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in a few weeks.
“I’ve been to a lot of Nationals games, but I’ve never been on the field, so this is really cool,” Isacson said. “I don’t know if you can ever be ready, but I am ready for the Bee.”
Bertani said the bee winners are kindred spirits with the Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars.
“They’re great representatives for many of the students in this area, so it’s quite fitting we bring them down here and give them a chance to be recognized in front of our fans,” he said. “The Jackie Robinson scholars are individuals that have worked really hard, much like the spelling bee students. Given the celebration of Jackie Robinson and what they’ve accomplished, it only makes sense to recognize them, too.”
Scholars from the Jackie Robinson Foundation Mid-Atlantic area said they are humbled to represent the baseball legend.
“The Jackie Robinson foundation has provided scholarships for many students all around the nation and internationally,” said University of Maryland freshman Michael White. “Robinson has been an inspiration to all of us here. Without him there would be many things that we wouldn’t have had yet. It’s always imperative that we celebrate him and everything he’s done.”
World-renowned mathematician Kathrine Johnson, depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures,” saw some of the limelight in the opening ceremony with her grandson throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Nationals manager Dusty Baker in her honor.
The Philadelphia Phillies went on to defeat the Nationals 4-2, but the focus remained on the great Robinson. The entire league wore 42 on their jerseys to commemorate the annual Jackie Robinson Day.
“Baseball has been an institution in this country and Jackie Robinson took things to a whole other level when he broke the color barrier, and was the first African-American to take the field for a Major League Baseball game,” Bertani said. “That diversity is to be celebrated. He was a pioneer and was in front of the civil rights movement which started a little bit later, but it’s important not just for us but the whole league because he changed the face of our game. He opened doors for people that came after him and that’s something people should always remember.”