Every single time the UCLA baseball team takes the field at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins are reminded of the rich heritage surrounding their proud program. Whether it’s the memorial statue of Robinson on the stadium concourse, or the No. 42 emblazoned on the right-center wall, the spirit of the most iconic baseball player in history is ever felt there.
But, as we all know, Jackie’s legacy at UCLA extends far beyond what he did on the diamond. In fact, the sport that he eventually rode to the top wasn’t even his best while a Bruin. Robinson was a letter winner in three varsity sports besides baseball, also earning honors on the track, the football field and the basketball court.
As reported by Scott Simon of the LA Daily News, Robinson batted a paltry .097 as a junior in 1940, but won a national title in the long jump and led the Bruins football team in scoring, passing, rushing and total offense. Robinson ended up finding his big-boy bat in the Major Leagues, retiring with a .311 career batting average with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but baseball was clearly second fiddle during his time in Westwood.
And still, Robinson’s meaning and worth to the UCLA community 30 years after his death is palpable. The Bruins who roam the dugouts at JRS today are well aware of the team they’ve inherited, and that drives them to work towards honoring a true hero of the game.
This emotion has become more relevant in recent months, as the hype around the release of “42” has been building by the day. The feature-length film, which was released in theaters nationwide today, is the first to tackle the amazing story behind Robinson’s battle with the color barrier in baseball.
The UCLA baseball team was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the movie earlier this week, and the response from the Bruins was extremely telling. Here are some of the gushing Tweets from players about the viewing.
— Hunter Virant (@virantula_33) April 9, 2013
— Cody Poteet (@TheRealPoTweet) April 9, 2013
42 is now up there for the best baseball movie I have ever seen. Jackie Robinson did some of the greatest things ever seen on a diamond. #42
— Adam Plutko (@Papaplut09) April 9, 2013
I was privileged enough to get an early preview of the movie 42 with my teammates. Best believe I will go see this movie again.
— Bren†on Δllen ✗ (@BrentonAllen_) April 9, 2013
After reading the reactions from the team, two things are for certain—the Bruins loved “42”, and I’ll be going to see it as soon as possible. I can only hope it has the same sort of impact on me as it obviously had on them.
The last Tweet listed above came from junior outfielder Brenton Allen, who was so moved by the showing, he already decided he’ll be seeing the movie again soon. His feelings are especially noteworthy because Allen is one of the very few African-American players on the UCLA roster this season. And while Jackie’s story teaches us to view the world without color, it’s intriguing how some parallels can be drawn even to the present generation.
In the end, it was an inspiring and unifying experience for all of the Bruin baseball players, regardless of race, color, creed or kind. I’m not sure whose idea the advance screening was. It could have been UCLA athletics, head coach John Savage or even the makers of the film itself. But no matter who made the call, it was a home run.
The Bruins have passed the midway point of the 2013 season, and are in need of a solid second half to reestablish themselves among the nation’s premier programs. After dropping five of seven over the last two weeks, UCLA got back in the win column versus Hawaii, but that’s only the first step.
To get back on track and earn a return ticket to the College World Series, the Bruins will have to start playing up to their potential. And maybe—just maybe—a strong reminder of Jackie Robinson’s legacy was all they needed to kick it back into full gear.