Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Metrodome as a Forum for Recognizing Jackie

As a baseball stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was notorious for its appallingly poor aesthetics. Built more for football than baseball, it featured a right field fence known as “the baggie” − a plastic wall that looked like a garbage bag. Most Twins fans, including me, look forward to the move next year to Target Field, an outdoor stadium made possible by a sales tax increase in Hennepin County.

The Vikings, meanwhile, continue on at the Dome, still pushing the ball uphill like Sisyphus in their quest to find funding for their own new stadium.

Before the Dome fades into history as a baseball venue, there is one exceptional element in its otherwise flatly functional design that I’d like to record. Among the huge portraits of Twins players hanging high beyond the outfield walls − signature players like Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Tony Oliva − there was one non-Twin: Jackie Robinson.

In 1947, when the Twins were still the Washington Senators and Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down racial segregation in schools, was still seven years away, Jackie Robinson was the African-American man who broke major league baseball’s color barrier. Brooklyn Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey made it possible, defying other team owners by bringing a black man to his team. But it was Robinson who carried the endeavor through, enduring racial taunts and persevering with dignity, determination, and grace under pressure.

To its credit, MLB has recognized Robinson’s legacy more and more in recent years. His uniform number, 42, has been permanently retired by all teams, and is worn annually on April 15 by many in a Jackie Robinson Day tribute.

Note to self: Be sure to catch the Twins, at least on radio, on April 15. Get your taxes in early and be ready to recognize a laudable American who continues to inspire.

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