SAN DIEGO -- Rockies outfielder Eric Young Jr. knew the story of Jackie Robinson. He grew up in a baseball family. His father wore No. 21 early in his Major League career -- he did so with the Rockies 1993-97 -- because, he always said, he wanted to be "half the man Jackie Robinson was."
So Young Jr. watched the new movie, "42," Thursday on the Rockies' off-day in San Diego, knowing the story quite well, but hoping that a generation that might not know much more about Robinson than the fact he broke baseball's color line would gain a better understanding. The movie premiered just ahead of MLB's Jackie Robinson Day on Monday, when all players are encouraged to wear No. 42, which has been taken out of circulation. Only the Yankees' Mariano Rivera, who was grandfathered in, wears it regularly.
"It can really inspire people that didn't know the story," Young said. "I'd say it's a must-watch.
"That's why I think it was great timing of the movie, right before Jackie Robinson Day. Those who don't know the story might have a better idea. If they see the movie, then go into Jackie Robinson Day, it'll be that much more special."
Young, who had the initiative to study Robinson's story as a child, said the biggest impression he took from Robinson's life was "the guts not to fight back. Everybody's human. Natural instinct is to fight back if somebody is nagging you, throwing things at you, hitting you with things. The reactions of a man would be to jump back and defend yourself. But to withstand all that takes a pretty strong man, mentally."
These days, discussions of Robinson and "42" often lead to the drop in African American participation in baseball. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has commissioned a task force to study the issue.
"Like in the movie, Branch Rickey said, 'I'm about building up this game that I love,'" Young said. "Why not have the best players out there on the field, no matter what color or race they are? If they're the best baseball player, put them out there, for love and respect for this game."
Young was asked about some factors that may keep African Americans from even attempting to prove their baseball ability:
The scarcity of role models in comparison to other sports: "Right now, it's what you see. You see on TV, you flip through a bunch of channels, you'll see LeBron [James] do a commercial or Dwyane Wade. That's what kids related to, that's what they see. That's what they might flock to. I'm always in the business of trying to branch out and get the game to more eyes, new eyes. Maybe they'll get a love to play."
Young is active on Twitter and makes himself available to young fans at @EYJr.
Because the game isn't in African American communities as much as it once was, it's mysterious: "If you don't know what you're watching, it could be boring to watch. If you see an intentional walk from watching and not understanding, you're like, 'What are they doing?' But knowing the strategy because, 'We're going to put him on first because we want the next hitter to possibly hit into a double play,' that comes with the knowledge of the game. You actually understand and respect the game more when you understand it that way."
A seemingly exclusive subculture of expensive lessons at a young age, and travel teams that are more interested in pushing players away rather than developing the raw athletes that are embraced by other sports: "If I hadn't been fortunate enough to have my dad play and know the routes to go through for baseball, being in New Jersey, I wouldn't know about summer ball or travel teams or going to scout teams. I'd have never known about that. But I knew about AAU basketball teams from age 8. Football, you always have some kind of workouts going on in the Northeast.
The NCAA's Division I scholarship limit of 11.7, which pushes lower-income athletes to other sports: "For those kids growing up, parents are telling them, 'Hey, if you want to go to college, you've got to get a full scholarship.' OK, which sports give out full scholarships? Not that I had to do it, but if I'd gone to Villanova [out of high school], I was going on a football scholarship, then walk on to the baseball team."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less