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Notes: Hunter to honor Robinson

Notes: Hunter to honor Robinson

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins outfielder Torii Hunter has made it his mission to get more African-American kids involved in the game of baseball.

So when he learned of an opportunity to honor one of the game's original African-American pioneers, he gladly jumped at it.

That chance came after Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. contacted Commissioner Bud Selig to ask for permission to wear the uniform No. 42 on Sunday, April 15, to honor Jackie Robinson on the 60th anniversary of his Major League debut. Robinson's number was retired by all clubs 10 years ago on the anniversary date.

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Selig not only gave Griffey permission but extended an invitation to all 30 clubs to allow one player from each to do the same. And of course, Hunter accepted the gesture to don the No. 42 for the Twins with open arms.

"I'm going to wear it for sure," Hunter said Wednesday afternoon. "I would be honored."

Hunter said he was contacted by the league after Griffey made the phone call to see if he would be interested in taking part in the event. Every year the league remembers the date by celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. But Hunter said that the opportunity to allow players to wear the normally untouchable number could help bring a new focus to Robinson's accomplishments and the current state of African-Americans in the game.

"It brings it all in the spotlight, and it shows that Major League Baseball is trying to push it and get the effort out there to inspire these black kids to come out and play the game," Hunter said. "And check out Griffey. He did a pretty big thing to call the Commissioner and tell him we want to wear that jersey. That's a big thing. I'm proud of Griffey and very glad he did that."

The number of African-American players in the Major Leagues has dwindled from as much as 27 percent of the league in 1978 to just eight percent in 2006. Hunter began a program last year called the "Torii Hunter Project" that was designed to increase the number of young African-Americans involved in the sport of baseball. Hunter stresses to anyone that will listen just how much an epidemic it has become. But Hunter admits that it's not just the African-American community he's worried about as baseball has taken a back seat for all kids, not just African-Americans.

So Hunter hopes the impact of the day's event will affect everyone.

"I think people don't know the history," Hunter said of Robinson. "People in my community don't know the history of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron and what they had to go through. Now we're declining in Major League Baseball. That's why I want to wear it, I want to represent him well and show people that we are out there and still remember Jackie Robinson. And they should too."

Knee worries: Infielder Jeff Cirillo was back on the field Wednesday, even if it was just for batting practice.

Cirillo is dealing with a sore left knee that was caused by a flareup in an old meniscus tear. Cirillo underwent a cortisone shot to the knee on Tuesday and said that he was feeling a little better one day later, though the knee was still tender.

"Sometimes those shots can really be a magic bullet," Cirillo said. "I'm an optimist when it comes to that and just hope it kind of resolves itself."

With a day off on Thursday, manager Ron Gardenhire said the hope is still to have Cirillo during the weekend series at Chicago but that won't be known until they see how he feels Friday.

Ouch: Right fielder Michael Cuddyer left Wednesday's game following the fourth inning with a laceration on his chin. Cuddyer fouled a ball off home plate in his fourth-inning at-bat which came up and struck his chin.

Cuddyer received five stitches to seal up the cut during the game. Gardenhire said that the team still expects him to be available for Friday's game in Chicago.

Pregame hijinks: Any notion that the Twins might be a little uptight with the start of the season was erased Wednesday, thanks to a little fun the coaches had during the team's batting practice.

Gardenhire and his staff had one of the team's ball boys act like a fan that had gotten lose onto the field of play while they chased him wearing official blue "Twins Security" jackets. The stunt mimicked the situation that occurred during the team's Opening Day game, with some of the coaches even pretending to fall while chasing the "unruly fan." It left the entire club in a state of laughter and Gardenhire said it was all in the name of a little fun.

"We were just messing with our security force," Gardenhire said. "They work their tails off so we just had a little fun with them. It was good stuff, really good stuff."

Twins tidbits: Right-handed pitcher J.D. Durbin, who the Twins lost on waivers at the end of spring, had a rough debut for the Diamondbacks on Wednesday afternoon. Durbin pitched just two-thirds of an inning, allowing seven runs on seven hits with a walk. He was designated for assignment after the game.

Coming up: The Twins have an off-day on Thursday before heading to Chicago for a three-game series against their division rivals, the White Sox. Right-hander Carlos Silva will get the start for Minnesota in Game 1 on Friday as he faces off against Chicago right-hander Javier Vazquez. Game time is 7:11 p.m. CT.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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