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Sharon Robinson shares her dad with world

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 27, 2009 - Sharon Robinson never grows tired of teaching young people about her father. The daughter of Jackie Robinson, Sharon serves as director of educational programming for Major League Baseball. Her duties brought her to Busch Stadium on a sun-splashed Thursday afternoon last week.

As a tribute to Jackie Robinson aired on a huge centerfield monitor, it was easy to see the resemblance between father and daughter. Their eyes are the same. Their smiles are almost identical. And, quite frankly, she looks quite athletic.

Robinson was in St. Louis to celebrate Fernando Jon Murphy of Highland Elementary School in Lewiston, Mo. He was one of nine winners among 8,000 entrants in the annual Breaking Barriers essay contest, which Sharon Robinson established.

It capped a week of ceremonies honoring Jackie Robinson at ballparks throughout the Majors. The Cardinals were on the road on April 15, the anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier, and honored him on April 23.

Robinson called the ceremony at the New York Mets Citi Field “most incredible.” “The opening of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda was just wonderful,” she said after she and Joe Thurston, the Cards’ lone black player, greeted Murphy on the field during pregame ceremonies.

“It is a permanent monument to my father. I have never seen my mother so happy.” Jackie Robinson’s wife, Rachel, has carried the banner for her late husband for decades and is still quite active. But now Sharon Robinson is becoming more of the voice of major league baseball’s first African-American player.

She said the evening in New York was even more special because all players and coaches wore Robinson’s famed No. 42. She thanked Ken Griffey Jr., for his inspiration in asking Major League Baseball to adopt that tribute several seasons ago.

Sharon Robinson, who knows the family of the late Roberto Clemente, drew criticism from several Hispanic organizations in 2006 when she said baseball should find a better way to honor Clemente than retiring his No. 21.

Robinson told the New York Daily News, “To my understanding, the purpose of retiring my father’s number is that what he did changed all of baseball, not only for African-Americans but also for Latinos, so I think that purpose has been met.”

“When you start retiring numbers across the board, for all different groups, you’re kind of diluting the original purpose.”

Three years later, a young student of Hispanic heritage penned one of the 2009 Breaking Barriers contest’s finest works. Murphy’s essay detailed his “coming to America and living in America” after growing up orphaned in Colombia and then being adopted by a family in Lewiston.

Robinson visited Murphy’s classroom and some of his classmates joined him on the field prior to the game. Along with meeting Thurston, they also met Albert Pujols and FOX News host Greta Van Susteren who threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

“I think Jackie Robinson was very special,” Murphy told me outside the Cardinals’ clubhouse before the game.

“He had a lot of hard times and a difficult life. He never gave up.”

Open to 4th- through 8th-grade students in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, the essay contest asks writers to share experiences about a barrier or obstacle they have taken on and how the values exemplified by Jackie Robinson have helped them. Those values include commitment, integrity, persistence, citizenship, courage, excellence, justice, teamwork and determination. Sharon Robinson called it “a great day for Fernando and his family.”

MLB is also working to generate more interest in baseball in urban areas – such as Los Angeles from where Jackie Robinson hailed.

Sharon Robinson also works with the Return Baseball to Inner Cities program and Urban Academies, which offer youths chances to play baseball and work with professional players, coaches and scouts.

“I support the effort to get more black kids to play baseball. This is a great sport because it teaches team work in a way other sports don’t offer. I do encourage black kids to play baseball and there is a reported 2 percent increase (in black players) this season so some of this is working, and we’re thrilled,” she said.

Alvin A. Reid is a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.

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