Span and Williams on Jackie Robinson Day

Today marks baseball’s annual remembrance of the groundbreaking day when Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

No matter where he’s played, Nationals center fielder Denard Span has always made a special plea to his manager to make sure he’s in the starting lineup for Jackie Robinson Day.

“You can’t sit me on Jackie Robinson Day,” Span said he’s told his skippers.

A concussion that landed him on the seven-day disabled list, however, will keep Span out of the lineup. Though he won’t be donning the No. 42 jersey - every player in the majors will wear Robinson’s number on their team’s uniform in a show of both appreciation and solidarity - in tonight’s game in Miami, the significance of the day isn’t lost of Span.

“It means a lot to me, and I’m kind of sad I’m not going tobe on the field playing,” Span said. “It’s a special day, not just for African Americans or minorities. I think it’s a special game for the game of baseball and society in general. It shows how far this nation has come, for everyone to come together.”

Span grew up in the Tampa area, idolizing players like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Ken Griffey Jr., Otis Nixon, Kenny Lofton, Deion Sanders and Eric Davis. He hopes Jackie Robinson Day continues baseball’s longstanding effort to reach into the African American community to make baseball available to kids who might prefer other, more popular sports.

“Not only just the baseball world, but I think it’s spreading outside of the baseball world,” Span said. “More acknowldgement of Jackie Robinson. The movie (“42”) came out last year and I think that helped. I think everybody’s getting the message of how important that man was.”

This is Matt Williams’ first Jackie Robinson Day as a major league manager and he’s happy to take part in the celebration of both Robinson’s historic achievement and what it meant - to baseball and to society.

“It’s nice for us to be able to honor him,” Williams said. “He’s done so much for our game, certainly for our country. The thing that strikes me about it is we all wear the same number, and that’s great. What it signifies to me is that we’re all the same, and that’s what he wanted. We’re all ballplayers, we’re all the same and all he wanted was to be one of those guys.”

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