Hunter carries out Robinson's legacy

Hunter carries out Robinson's legacy

MINNEAPOLIS -- He wore high socks. To Torii Hunter, there was no other choice, and he did it happily and respectfully.

On the day he wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, Hunter ditched his low-rider pants and wore high black socks, just as Robinson did 60 years ago when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Hunter even showed a flash of Robinson's speed and hustle in the seventh inning on Sunday, dropping into a fadeaway slide and reaching with his left hand to tag the plate and score on Jason Kubel's double.

"That's what everybody said in the dugout, 'You look like Jackie Robinson out there with those high pants legs and that slide,'" Hunter said after going 1-for-4 in Minnesota's 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay. "I felt like it. Maybe I had a little spirit in me.

"It was special moment. Just having 42 on my back said it all. When you see 42 anywhere, you think of Jackie Robinson."

As much as any Major Leaguer, Hunter respects Robinson's courage and his legacy. He says he thinks of Robinson whenever he hears a racial slur directed at himself, and tries to imagine what Robinson must have heard and endured every day of his professional baseball life.

"If it wasn't for Jackie Robinson," Hunter said, "I wouldn't be here."

Hunter, first-base coach Jerry White and injured outfielder Rondell White all wore No. 42 on Sunday. Hunter and White are the Twins' only African-American players.

Jackie Robinson Day was created in 2004 to honor the enduring impact of Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier.

Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut, his No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.

Robinson's memory lives on in such initiatives as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which his wife Rachel founded in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources.

Another is Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing character development issues like conflict resolution and self-esteem.

After Ken Griffey Jr. received permission from Major League Baseball to wear No. 42 on Sunday, Hunter was one of the first players he called to join him. Hunter has been critical of the lack of African-Americans in baseball, and is trying to do something about it. Last year he established a foundation to provide funds and equipment for inner-city kids to play baseball, and solicited contributions from other players.

Jerry White isn't sure how many of today's young minority players understand how Robinson opened the door for them, and how tightly that door was closed until that April day in Brooklyn when Robinson stepped on a Major League field. White, who began his professional baseball career in the Montreal organization in 1970, never had to be told.

"I don't how much they think about it, how it helped them, and what it means," White said.

Pat Borzi is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.