The Ottawa Lynx turned back the clock on Sunday, all the way back to 1946, an historic year for the International League and for baseball in general. That year, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to play professional baseball with white players, when he suited up for Branch Rickey's Montreal Royals of the International League. He would make his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers the next season.
For being such a pioneer and an idol for the ages, Major League Baseball retired his No. 42 in 1997. Now that number is immortalized on the outfield wall at Ottawa Lynx Stadium as part of a heartfelt tribute put together by the Lynx organization.
The stars of the day were two of Robinson's teammates from that 1946 season, as season in which the Royals won the Governors' Cup and Robinson would hit .346 and steal 25 bases.
George "Shotgun" Shuba is often best remembered for his symbolic role in breaking the color barrier. Shuba was captured in a famous photograph, shaking hands with Jackie Robinson at home plate after Jackie hit his first home run as a Royal. Jean-Pierre Roy was perhaps the anchor of the Royals pitching staff. In 1945, he won 25 games, and pitched complete games in both games of a doubleheader. Before the game, the two gentlemen met with Lynx season ticket holders and the media. They also addressed the crowd on-field after Robinson's number was unveiled during a pre-game ceremony and signed autographs for fans at the start of the game.
The pre-game ceremony was led off by 24 children, members of the Jr. Lynx Club and local little leaguers, filing onto the field, each wearing Royals shirts with the numbers of players from that 1946 Royals team. Two young boys, with the help of Shuba, re-created the famous handshake of 60 years ago as the young boy wearing Robinson's number rounded the bases, shaking hands with the boy wearing Shuba's number at home plate. Then, just as he did 60 years ago, Shuba stepped in and shook hands with "Jackie Robinson."
Then Randy Mobley, International League President, joined Shuba and Roy on the field to talk about how important Jackie Robinson is to baseball, to the IL, to thousands of baseball players who have followed him and to themselves. Robinson's No. 42 was unveiled on the right-field wall of Lynx Stadium to a standing ovation.
Shuba and Roy delivered the ceremonial first pitch to the two Jr. Lynx members wearing their numbers. Russell Martin, father of Dodgers catcher of the same name, played the American and Canadian national anthems on the saxophone.
During the game, the Lynx came out in replica jerseys and caps in the style of the 1946 Montreal Royals. Even the Lynx batboys wore old-fashioned uniforms. The players' jerseys were auctioned off in a silent auction and raised approximately $7,500 (C)for local children's charities. Many of the kids from the pre-game ceremony also read highlights of Jackie Robinson's career over the PA system between innings.
The home crowd was sent home happy, as the hometown Lynx did the old Royals proud, defeating Norfolk 8-3.