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04/10/08 7:22 PM ET

Wearing No. 42 means a lot to Rollins

Phillies shortstop to honor Robinson on 61st anniversary

NEW YORK -- When Major League Baseball offered Jimmy Rollins the chance to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, he couldn't say yes to wearing No. 42 fast enough.

Eventually, every member of the team wore the digits.

On Tuesday, the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier, Rollins will be the only Phillie to wear Robinson's No. 42, as the reigning National League MVP represents the Hall of Famer's legacy.

"So many of us got to play baseball because of Jackie Robinson," Rollins said. "The things he had to put up with. It was torture for him, I know it had to be. But, also to show America that black people are capable and smart enough to compete in this sport."

Rollins join Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. and manager Dusty Baker, Toronto's Vernon Wells, Frank Thomas and Shannon Stewart and several other Major Leaguers in wearing the numbers Robinson donned on April 15, 1947, when he batted against Johnny Sain. Robinson hit .311 in a 10-year career that ended after the 1956 season.

As part of the tribute, the Phillies will salute African-American pioneers that opened doors for others. The four living players of the historic Philadelphia Stars -- catchers Bill Cash and Stanley Glenn, pitcher Harold Gould and second baseman Mahlon Duckett -- will be honored on the field before Tuesday's game against ?. The Philadelphia Stars existed from 1934-50 and won the '34 Negro National League pennant.

The Phillies will also donate $40,000 to the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship Fund, and the team will recognize several Jackie Robinson scholars that have benefited from the foundation, including 2008 participant Ramon Reyes.

Rollins has always been in touch with Robinson's impact on the game, especially since seeing 1996's "Soul of the Game," which chronicled Robinson's early days in professional baseball. He's visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and was fortunate enough to meet legends such as Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and Buck O'Neil.

"Eventually, [baseball] was going to change, but it was going to take a special person to kick the door down," Rollins said. "He was the appointed one, and he did a [tremendous] job representing himself and African-Americans. He was called on for something special and he accomplished it."

Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. In honor of the 50th Anniversary in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.

His memory lives in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by his wife, Rachel Robinson, in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources.

Another initiative, Breaking Barriers, utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history, in addition to addressing critical issues of character development, such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.

"Jackie was more than just an athlete and more than just a baseball player," Rollins said. "He was a political figure. You can look at when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and know how it affected African-Americans in America."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.