NEW YORK - As a boy, Bud Selig went to Wrigley Field to watch a rookie named Jackie Robinson. More than a half-century later, the memory still sticks with the commissioner.
"We were the only white people in the upper deck," Selig said. "I never saw so much excitement."
At ballparks all across the majors Thursday, fans and players got to see and hear about the Hall of Famer's legacy. Baseball paused for Jackie Robinson Day, with video tributes, speeches and commemorative No. 42 signs honoring the man who broke the sport's color barrier.
"When you look back on the history of our game, Jackie Robinson coming into baseball - there's no question in my mind that April 15, 1947, was the most powerful moment in baseball history," Selig said at Shea Stadium.
"It transcended baseball. It was a precursor to the civil rights movement by 15 or 16 years," he said.
Robinson's widow, Rachel, was escorted onto the field by Selig and New York Mets center fielder Mike Cameron before the game against Atlanta.
Rachel Robinson spoke to a sparse crowd and her daughter, Sharon, took part in a first-pitch ceremony.
Rachel recalled those early days after Robinson started his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"After the first few games, when black fans started to come to the games and rooted so hard and came up to him, he began to get the feeling of what his playing meant to people," she said.
"Sharon and I know that a younger generation are beginning to discover Jackie Robinson. We're proud of all the progress," she said. "I also know in a very intense and passionate way that there's a lot that still needs to be done in baseball and in life."
Starting this year, every April 15 will be celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day in the majors.
His No. 42 was retired throughout baseball in 1997 when the sport paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the day he debuted for Brooklyn.
At the new Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies honored the five living members of the Philadelphia Stars team from the Negro Leagues.
Mahlon Duckett, 81, admitted he was a bit worried when Robinson left to join the Dodgers' organization.
"At first, I was a little leery because he wasn't the best ballplayer in the league in 1945," he said.
"But I felt great when he went up there. I knew that he could play some ball," he said. "I never thought that he would turn out to be the player that he turned out to be, and that's one of the greatest of all time."
Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville said Robinson's legacy was more than a great African-American success story - it was an American success story.
"I certainly know I would not be standing here without some of the sacrifices he made," Glanville said.
At Wrigley Field, managers Dusty Baker of the Chicago Cubs and Lloyd McClendon of the Pittsburgh Pirates spoke of what the day represented. Along with Montreal's Frank Robinson, they are the only three black managers in the majors.
"I don't necessarily have to hear his name or have a special day to recognize or respect what Jackie Robinson and other great minorities have done to pave the way for myself and others. I'm grateful every day," McClendon said.
"Certainly generations of fans have changed, and knowledge slips away a little bit. But baseball has done a nice job. We ought to keep that up. We shouldn't forget the past. I think because of those struggles, we have a better game today," he said.
Said Baker: "He changed - not to sound smart - he changed the complexion and the face of the game."
"If it wasn't for Jackie Robinson, I probably wouldn't be sitting here now. I'm very grateful and very thankful for what he went through," he said.
Fans at Jacobs Field received a limited edition postcard of Robinson. Also, the Cleveland Indians awarded two scholarships to local athletes in honor of the late Dodgers great.
At The Ballpark in Arlington, Bobby Bragan talked about what his former Brooklyn teammate - and the Dodgers executive who signed him - meant to the game.
"Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson to me, combined, made the greatest contribution of the 20th century other than Billy Graham," said Bragan, 86.
"We traveled by train back then and on the first road trip, a few of us didn't want to sit with Jackie in the dining car," he said. "But on the second trip, we were fighting to be the ones to sit with him. He turned us around like that."
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