I feel that one of the most important things that I can teach my children is our family’s history. For instance, when my daughters learn about Henry Ford and his revolutionary invention, the automobile, they will also learn that their great-grandfather’s parents helped Ford on his path by providing him with the tools and materials that he needed to accomplish his vision. They will learn about how their great-grandmother’s father moved the family to Los Angeles from Youngstown, Ohio right after World War II began, because if he was going to die he wanted to die where it was warm. And they will learn that their great-grandmother’s grandparents came to the United States from Russia to escape the hate and violence that was directed towards them because of their religion.
Fortunately they also have the opportunity to learn about another part of their family history this coming weekend when we will be taking our older daughter to see the Jackie Robinson movie “42.” As you may know, Monday, April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day around Major League Baseball, with everyone in baseball wearing Jackie’s number 42 in dedication to his historic and heroic efforts in breaking baseball’s color barrier. This year, 2013, will signify the 66th anniversary of Jackie’s first game and the release of the film “42” was designed to correspond with this anniversary.
My older daughter, Brooklyn, is 7 ½ and I have wrestled with the concept of taking her to see the movie which has been rated PG-13. Aside from the concern that she will be unable to sit still for 2 hours to watch the film, more importantly is the worry that she may hear language and epithets that are simply inappropriate for adults let alone 7 year olds. So the internal struggle has been waged but I think that my wife and I have decided that we will allow her to see the film nevertheless; we will just have the discussion with her as to the language and attempt to instill in her the same level of detestation that most of society has for such language. Frankly, I do not believe that those concerns are significant enough to deter me from using this movie as a chance to teach Brooklyn about her family.
You all know that we are a Dodger family; through good and bad we bleed Dodger blue. Whether it is Lasorda and O’Malley or McCourt or the Fox Group, we love our team and pull for its success. But there is more to our affection for the team than just the product on the field or the championships they have won. There is a significant level of pride for what our team has accomplished by way of civil rights and equality. Aside from Jackie Robinson there is Sandy Koufax, the first superstar Jewish player to refuse to play on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish religion, despite the fact that it was the first game of the World Series. There is Fernando Valenzuela, the Mexican pitcher who united an entire city. And there is the Dodgers’ unfailing commitment to developing ballplayers all over the world. The Dodgers have always been a socially conscious and forward thinking baseball team; not just 25 guys trying to win a championship, but an entire organization trying to effectuate change.
Of course, the Dodgers greatest contribution to baseball and the country as a whole was its support of Jackie Robinson. But while much is made of Jackie and his heroism, it is easy to overlook the contribution of the rest of the team who stuck by Jackie, played alongside Jackie and came to his defense when others tried to denigrate him. I am not saying that they were all saints, but there is a reason why there is a statue of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese in Brooklyn. It took two to tango, so to speak, and the day Jackie made his debut, there were 8 other people on the field playing alongside him.
Some of my earliest memories were of the Dodgers; my first game was in 1982 when I was 6 years old. By comparison, Brooklyn’s first baseball game was when she was 5 months old and she has since been to countless games. The Dodgers are as much a part of our family as my grandmother. (In fact, we celebrated my grandmother’s 85th birthday at Game 3 of the 2008 NLDS at Dodger Stadium.) And as I said, it is important that we teach our children about our family’s history. Jackie Robinson and his heroism is as much a part of our history as the Model T. It isn’t every day that they make a movie of your family’s history. Lucky for me, they have.