Jackie Robinson Day is one of the most iconic days in all of sports. It reminds us of the courage that Jack Roosevelt Robinson possessed as he became the first player to break the color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
And, lest we forget, Robinson was a damn good baseball player too. He deserves his spot in Cooperstown on merit, not by the color of his skin.
Jackie Robinson's story has inspired the Black community over the years, and has helped produce some of the game's greatest players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr.
Texas Rangers pitcher Taylor Hearn is another Black baseball player inspired by the memory of Jackie Robinson, and gets excited when April 15 comes around every year.
"It's very special to me," Hearn said. "If there's one day of the calendar year, other than my birthday, I think this is definitely above [everything else]. It's a good time to just sit there and be thankful to be able to be playing this game, and also to give him thanks as well for all the stuff he's been through."
While the vast majority of us didn't get a chance to see what Robinson went through, the 2013 film 42 helped tell the story, with the late Chadwick Boseman portraying Jackie Robinson. Though there are some difficult scenes that depict the racism that Robinson faced, 42 is one of Hearn's favorite movies — one that continues to impact him.
"I'm so glad and so thankful that Chadwick did that and played that role so perfect," Hearn said. "I feel like that was just a perfect time for that movie to come out, especially with everything going on. That's a movie that I'm gonna continue to show my kids and everybody on about Jackie Robinson because we weren't alive to see him play."
Inspired by Robinson, Hearn has taken it upon himself to be an ambassador of the game to Black children in his community and elsewhere. One way that he helps is with the Players Alliance, a non-profit organization founded by a group of active and former big league players who are trying to improve representation of Black Americans throughout baseball.
This year on Jackie Robinson Day, Hearn joined more than 100 Major League Baseball players who donated their entire day's salary toward the Players Alliance initiatives.
"That was something I did without hesitation," Hearn said. "I just want to continue to give it back and using the platform that not only God has presented me with, but just being a professional athlete, a baseball player, but then also being an African American guy that plays for Texas Rangers. To be honest with you, the years I've always watched the Rangers, they've never really had any black guys. So this, for sure, was huge for me."
Even though Taylor has gotten used to being one of the only Black players on a team, it's not always been easy for him. One time while in the Pirates organization, he broke down with Double-A Altoona manager Michael Ryan when he realized he was the only Black pitcher in the system.
"It was a tough thing to swallow," Hearn said. "But it is what it is. Because, I mean, there's not that many black guys that play baseball. So that's always been my biggest goal is try to continue to push the narrative and try to somewhat influence [kids] and play baseball."
Hearn isn't alone in his goal. There are multiple Rangers players who also donated their day salaries toward the Players Alliance's cause. Hearn also addressed the team on Wednesday night, speaking from the heart to ask for help in growing this cause now and in the future.
"I'm really proud of Taylor," Woodward said. "He does a lot in the community. He doesn't speak as much as he probably should because he's really impressive. Just the maturity of this young man, and him being an African American player nowadays, it's a lot of responsibility. But he takes it head on and wants to help. He's a tremendous ambassador for baseball and what it should represent."