WASHINGTON -- The Nationals took part in a league-wide celebration of Jackie Robinson Day by honoring the first African American player in Major League Baseball throughout the pregame ceremonies and inning breaks on Friday.
The team recognized the Jackie Robinson Scholars program and featured videos of local celebrities talking about how Jackie Robinson has influenced their lives. Players representing the Banneker City Little League met Nationals players on the field when they participated in the Starting Nine ceremony.
Robinson was the first to break baseball's color barrier and bring the Negro League's electrifying style of play to the big leagues in 1947. He quickly became one of the game's top draws, most daring baserunner and a symbol of hope to millions of Americans. The Brooklyn Dodgers won six pennants in Robinson's 10 seasons and he was named National League MVP in 1949.
Because the league-wide tribute officially took place Friday, the anniversary of Robinson's barrier-breaking debut, all Nationals players wore Robinson's No. 42.
2011 Jackie Robinson Day coverage
For shortstop Ian Desmond, it's a no-brainer to honor a person who persevered despite having to deal with racism during his time in the big leagues.
"He had to put up with all the off-the-field nonsense," Desmond said. "I always wondered what kind of player he would have been if everyone was on his side. It makes me motivated to play and see how I do every year. Nobody can break you down if you play as hard as you can. In the end, people will respect you."
Infielder Jerry Hairston learned about Robinson through his grandfather, Sam, who played against Robinson in the Negro Leagues. Hairston said Robinson is the reason players of all races are able to play baseball.
"If you think about it, Jackie sparked the Civil Rights Movement," Hairston said. "He gave us a chance to see that a person of color can not only be on stage, but succeed as well. Many thought he would fail."
Hairston said that what his grandfather taught him about Robinson has influenced his style of play.
"That style of play in the Negro Leagues is what my grandfather always talked about -- being aggressive. Therein lies Negro League baseball," Hairston said. "Jackie brought that to the Major Leagues -- running the bases, scoring from first, stealing home was exciting. That was the brand of baseball the Negro Leaguers were playing. Jackie had a tremendous influence had on that type of play."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.