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On Jackie Robinson Day, revisiting his trips to Richmond

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Jackie Robinson

Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson (right) talked with teammate and pitcher Don Newcombe at Mooers Field on April 8, 1952. The Dodgers came to Richmond to play an exhibition and Newcombe was in basic training at Camp Pickett.

Editor's note: Portions of this story first appeared last April in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

We pause for Jackie Robinson Day, an annual celebration of April 15, 1947, when Robinson as a Brooklyn Dodger became the first Black man to play Major League Baseball.

In a few ways, Robinson is always in Richmond.

Part of the outfield fence at The Diamond is dedicated to Robinson, whose picture is featured. Also, his number 42 is painted on the walls along each foul line. And no Richmond Flying Squirrel ever wears No. 42, retired throughout all levels of affiliated baseball in honor of Robinson.

Robinson was part of the Dodgers team that played an exhibition at Richmond's Mooers Field on April 8, 1952.

Robinson visited Richmond at least four times following the completion of his playing career, and during one of those trips, his luggage was lost.

A few days before the Nov. 5, 1968, presidential election, Robinson appeared in Richmond on behalf of the Humphrey-Muskie Democratic ticket. Robinson had been on the road for several days (20 states). When he arrived at Richmond's Byrd Field on a flight following a long morning of travel, his baggage mistakenly had not accompanied him.

According to the Richmond News Leader, Robinson said, "Well, I've gone this far with this shirt, I guess I can go for the rest of the way." He filled out a lost-baggage form at the airport, and moved on with his day.

Robinson spoke at the Twi-Lite Snack Bar for 30 minutes, and then addressed Virginia Union University students at another stop. His baggage arrived in Richmond during Robinson's speaking engagements, and he reunited with the luggage at Byrd Field on his way out of town, headed for New York.

Robinson also visited Richmond during May of 1968, when he spoke to Virginia Union students during their honors week convocation.

In 1957, the year after Robinson retired, he spoke at the Mosque and a fundraising and membership drive for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Robinson made stops across the country that year on behalf of the NAACP.

In 1960, Robinson came to Richmond and spoke at the opening session of Virginia's NAACP annual convention, at the Moore Street Baptist Church.

Robinson died in 1972, at age 53, of heart disease and diabetes.

In Cairo, Ga., there are two roads named for baseball native sons. Robinson, the more famous of the two, resided in the southwest Georgia town for a year before moving to California with his family. Jackie Robinson Memorial Drive is a 10-mile stretch of a highway in the Cairo (KAY-roe) area.

It's not far from Willie Harris Drive, named for the former manager of the Flying Squirrels. After a 12-year career in the big leagues, Harris' hometown honored him by renaming West Washington Drive, the street on which Harris' childhood home is located, Willie Harris Drive. Harris, Richmond's manager in 2018 and 2019, is also Black.

"I wouldn't be sitting here if it wasn't for [Robinson]," Harris said after a 2018 Squirrels game.

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