Jackie Robinson Day Holds Special Meaning for Western Coach

By Matt Tritten | mtritten@kq2.com

Published 04/15 2014 05:01PM

Updated 04/15 2014 11:04PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Missouri Western took the baseball field for a typical practice Tuesday afternoon at the Spring Sports Complex.

No number 42 jerseys were taking batting practice in the cages, but the meaning of the day wasn't lost on the Griffons.

"I don't think people can really imagine exactly how tough it was for an African American back then to break in (to the big leagues)," Western head coach Buzz Verduzco said.

"To see the respect and to honor one player that did something that no one else could probably imagine putting themselves through is incredible," Western senior outfielder David Chew said.

Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in Major League Baseball history on April 15, 1947 as he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson went on to play ten years in the majors -- all with Brooklyn.

Verduzco wasn't around to witness the game 67 years ago, but it's still had an impact on his life.

Verduzco's a Mexican American that grew up playing baseball in California.

"People think that it was just an African American thing," the 15-year head coach said. "It was a minority thing."

"Our coach is a great coach." Chew said. "I love playing for him. We're doing something special every year getting to play with him and play for him."

Robinson's debut in Major League Baseball came 16 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech, and eight years before Rosa Parks held her seat on a bus in Alabama.

His first game in Dodger blue paved the way for minority athletes, but also the civil rights movement.

"I think Jackie Robinson was classy and obviously tough. It was a completely different time and era during his baseball days," Verduzco said. "I think for us characteristic-wise, we want to portray everything that he was able to do on the field, too."

During his time at Missouri Western, Verduzco's won more than 400 games including his first regular season MIAA Title in 2013 -- accomplishments that wouldn't be possible without number 42.

"For him to break the color barrier from the African American side at least, and me looking at him from more of a minority standpoint, has my respect like no other."

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