Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jackie Joins The Team

It was 65 years ago today that Jackie Robinson took the field with the Kansas City Monarchs for the first time. The Monarchs had been training for a week in Houston when Jackie arrived after finishing his duties as basketball coach at Samuel Huston college in Austin. He would only get in about five days of training before playing in his first game on April 1.

Robinson probably felt ambivalent as he made the 160 mile trip from Austin to Houston. On one hand, he considered the $400 a month pay he'd be earning with the Monarchs a financial bonanza. On the other hand, he may have wished he could head home to California to be with his family and girlfriend Rachel Isum. I also wonder how confident he could have been in his baseball skills--he had not had a great year in his only season of college baseball, and, as far as I can tell, hadn't played organized ball for five years.

Despite all that rust, the March 31st Chicago Defender reported that Robinson "looked good" in his first workouts with the club. I get the feeling Jackie was such an incredible athlete that he could have starred in just about any sport he chose.

The economic realities of the Negro Leagues meant clubs couldn't afford to spend much time simply working out as a team; a full slate of exhibition games had to be scheduled in order to sell some tickets. According to Arnold Rampersand's book Jackie Robinson: A Biography, Jackie was dismayed that "Spring training consisted of actually playing baseball games rather than getting prepared for the coming season."

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