Jackie Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919, and I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1936. We weren’t born in the same year or even the same decade! We were born on opposite sides of the country. But we would still be best friends.
It was in 1945 when Branch Rickey made the biggest move in baseball history. He needed to put a “spark” in his ballclub. What better way than to sign the first black player in 55 years? That black player’s name was Jackie Robinson.
“Why don’t people like Jackie Robinson,” I, the batboy, asked Pee Wee Reese the day that was announced,” He’s on our team.”
“Hey, I heard that Jackie Robinson plays his first game with the Royals tonight. Let’s watch it,” I said.
“Before Jackie Robinson was allowed to play with the Dodgers, he had to promise not to fight back,” Pee Wee Reese said once we got there.
We sat down and watched the game. Every once in a while, we commented when Jackie made good or bad plays. Usually, they were good plays. When Jackie hit a long go-ahead home run in the 6th inning, we stood up and cheered.
Way to go Jackie,” we yelled. People could tell it was us cheering because we were cheering for a black player and there were like 100 people there. The Royals ended up winning 10-7. Jackie went 3-for-4 with a 3-run HR and two singles.
We caught up to Jackie after the game was over.
“Are you Pee Wee Reese?” he asked,” And you are?”
“Tyler Lowman, the batboy,” I replied,” We wanted to see you play today.”
“Well, you saw one of my best games of my career!”
We laughed at his joke. Jackie was really funny.
Jackie left after that. We stayed for a little bit and got some hot dogs. We left after we ate our hot dogs.
We watched another of Jackie’s hometown games the next day. This time, he went 2-for-3 with two doubles. He was also hit by a pitch. The crowd booed when he was hit. Are they learning respect? I thought.
We talked to Jackie again after the game. He told us that he would probably start the 1947 Spring Training with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“That’s great! I hope you do start with us!” I exclaimed. We left the stadium after that because the Dodgers played that day. It was the last game of their season. They were 60-91, not too spectacular. It was a tough battle, but the Dodgers lost 11-10 in a hitters’ duel. Pee Wee Reese had two doubles and two steals, a great game.
Pee Wee Reese and I spent our offseason looking at our stats and Jackie Robinson’s stats. Jackie finished the year with a .349 bating average and a .985 fielding percentage.
Spring training was now over. Their first game was on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field. When the 30,000 people saw a black player on their home field, they swore and threw trash from the stands.
“That’s what we’re going to have to face,” Pee Wee Reese whispered to me.
75% of the crowd is somehow affecting Jackie Robinson, I thought.
To see how the crowd was affecting Jackie Robinson was scary. “You stink” and other sayings were heard throughout the stadium. It was very similar to a riot, but for one person.
No one cared about Pee Wee Reese. No one cared about the great players the Dodgers had. Their eyes were focused on Jackie Robinson.
In Jackie’s first at-bat, they had to delay the game because there was too much trash on the field. He ended up popping out to third base.
In Jackie’s second at-bat, he struck out swinging. The crowd exploded with screaming fans. When Jackie returned to the dugout, no one talked to him. I tried to cheer him up.
“Good try,” I whispered.
In Jackie’s third at- bat he lifted one high into the sky. The crowd silenced because they thought it was going to be a home run. The center fielder settled under the ball. He leapt up and he...caught it! Jackie Robinson had just been robbed of a home run! The crowd couldn’t believe.
When Jackie returned to the dugout, he had his head held high.
Jackie popped out in his last at-bat. The Dodgers lost 5-0 and Jackie Robinson went 0-for-4, but he proved himself worthy of being the second baseman for the Dodgers.
Nobody stayed at the stadium long. Three hours later, fans had left, shops had closed up, ushers had cleaned up, and Jackie, Pee Wee Reese and I were the only ones in the stadium.
“Why are you Pee Wee Reese always together?” Jackie asked me.
“When I was younger, I was kidnapped. My parents were horrified because they couldn’t find me. The police eventually found me in Arizona. When my parents didn’t come to get me, Pee Wee Reese took me in,” I replied.
“Is he your dad?”
“No, he’s just a guardian.”
“That’s a sad story. Do you know where your parents are?”
“I think they are somewhere in Boston.”
“Maybe you’ll find them in Boston this year. We have nine games in Boston this year.”
“Maybe, maybe I will.”
Right after that, Pee Wee Reese joined in and told me that it was now time to go. Jackie followed right behind us.
All the way home, I thought about what Jackie said. Maybe it is possible that I could find Mom and Dad somewhere in Boston. But will they let me still be the batboy? What will they say about Pee Wee Reese caring for me?
Lots of questions were stuck in my head, and none of them had easy answers that I could answer right away.
The first three-fourth of the season went like the first season, kind of. The Dodgers were now 72-50, one game out of first place in the NL Central. Also, Jackie had settled in. He was now hitting .290 with 9 home runs. But, I didn’t find my parents in any of the 9 games against Boston.
The 123rd game was the hardest game for Jackie. The Dodgers played the Phillies, the team that was one game ahead of the Dodgers.
The Phillies were ruder than anybody could imagine. Ben Chapman was the worst. He would not shut up. Every second of the game, he was saying something bad about Jackie.
This was the only game that Jackie’s teammates (other than Pee Wee Reese) stood up for him. His own teammates threatened to sit out and his family received death threats all the time.
Later in the year, Jackie was being heckled tremendously again. Pee Wee Reese went from shortstop to Jackie and put his arm around him. The crowd was silenced. They couldn’t believe it!
“Big thing you did out there!” I told Pee Wee Reese after the game.
At the end of the regular season, Jackie finished with outstanding stats, and so did Pee Wee Reese. They both had a .297 batting average, Jackie had one more homerun than Pee Wee Reese and Pee Wee Reese had five more steals than Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers ended up 92-70, coming in first in the NL Central.
The Brooklyn Dodgers played the Phillies first in the playoffs. Games 1 and 2 would be in Philly and 3 and 4 would be in Brooklyn. If needed, 5 and 6 in Philly, and Game 7 would be in Brooklyn.
The Dodgers were already in Philadelphia the day before Game 1.
The game started at 1:00. Jackie Robinson led off the game with a double off the wall. On the next pitch, Pee Wee Reese knocked Jackie home with a double down the right field line.
After the 6th inning, Jackie had another double and the Dodgers won 7-1. Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson each went 3-4.
The Dodgers won the series 4-1. Jackie went 11-22 and Pee Wee Reese went 13-27.
The Dodgers played the Braves next. The Braves had won the NL East by four games. The Braves won the first game 7-6, and the Dodgers won the second game 6-4.
It was now time to play Game 3. They played in Brooklyn with the series tied 1-1.
The Dodgers had control of the game all nine innings. They crushed the Braves 12-3. Jackie and Pee Wee Reese each had a HR and five RBIs.
The Dodgers won the series 4-1 two games later. They were rewarded the National League pennant. For a minute, nobody thought about Jackie, racial thoughts or the problems they had to overcome. They were thinking about who they’d play in the World Series and that big old trophy.
“Ty, we’re playing Boston!!”
This is how I was woken up the next day. I looked outside.
“Why are you waking me up at 5 in the morning?” I asked.
“T-The World Series…it’s against Boston!”
“Yeah, and we better get moving. Game 1 is in two days.”
After that, we got on the team bus. It wasn’t a long drive. When we arrived in Boston, I started thinking of places where I’d find them.
At their house, at their work, I thought. The only thing was I didn’t know where those places were or how to get there. I eventually made up my mind that I would look for them after the World Series was over.
Games 1 and 2 belonged to Boston. The Dodgers couldn’t score runs and were outscored 15-5 in the first two games. Game 3 was the Dodgers’ game. They beat Boston 10-3 with Jackie hitting three home runs. Game 4 was also the Dodgers winning 9-2. Game 5 was won by Boston 9-8 and Brooklyn won the 6th game 10-7 in 13 innings.
It was now Game 7 of the World Series, the most important game of the year. It was either go big or go home. The Dodgers looked like they were going to go home through the first three innings. After the 3rd inning, it was 8-2 Boston.
The Dodgers found their offense in the 5th. Pee Wee Reese hit a grand slam to put a 4-spot up. The game was 8-6 until the bottom of the 9th. Jackie was up to bat. The bases were loaded with 2 outs. The closer threw one up in the zone.
“THERE IT GOES! JACKIE ROBINSON WITH THE WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM!” the announcer yelled into his microphone.
“And Jackie Robinson is voted Rookie of the Year!”
We stood up and cheered. This is what Jackie wanted. He had to overcome many problems, but he did it.
I did find my parents in Boston a few years later. They were very exciting day. My parents said that they prayed for me every night that I was safe. Also, they let me still be the Brooklyn Dodgers batboy! They ride the team bus everywhere the team goes. I am still best friends with Jackie and Pee Wee Reese like a friendship never before.
40 Years Later
“We are sorry that Jackie Robinson could not be here today. If we were alive, he would thank you all for making him the first black Hall of Famer.”