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#9: Celebrating the legacy in Daytona Beach

On Jackie Robinson Day and every day, Tortugas pay tribute
The Jackie Robinson statute, located outside of the Daytona Beach ballpark that bears his name.
@BensBiz
April 15, 2022

On Jackie Robinson Day, what better place to turn one's attention than the stadium that bears his name? Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Daytona Tortugas, opened as City Island Ballpark in 1914 and is now the oldest stadium in all of Minor League Baseball. Jackie Robinson played there during

On Jackie Robinson Day, what better place to turn one's attention than the stadium that bears his name?

Jackie Robinson Ballpark, home of the Daytona Tortugas, opened as City Island Ballpark in 1914 and is now the oldest stadium in all of Minor League Baseball. Jackie Robinson played there during 1946 Spring Training, marking his first games as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. In 1990 the ballpark was renamed to reflect this fact, and a statue of Jackie Robinson was installed at the front entrance. An open-air Jackie Robinson Museum was later added, featuring informational plaques regarding his time in Daytona Beach as well as interactive tributes to his wide-ranging athletic prowess.

Jackie Robinson wore number 9 throughout the 1946 season, in Daytona Beach and then as a member of the International League's Montreal Royals. In 2017 the Tortugas wore number 9 on Jackie Robinson Day to commemorate this fact, in lieu of the iconic 42 that he wore throughout his MLB career with the Dodgers. Jackie's 1946 uniform number served as the inspiration for Minor League Baseball's new "The Nine" initiative, dedicated to celebrating Black baseball pioneers, fostering new youth baseball opportunities and further diversifying the baseball industry. The Tortugas -- Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds -- are taking part in The Nine via their season-long "Barrier Breakers" series.

The Tortugas' first Barrier Breakers game took place on April 9, featuring a "DB" replica hat giveaway that paid homage to Daytona Beach Negro League teams such as the Black Cats and Red Wings. Team general manager Jim Jaworski said these games "tie in naturally" to what the team is already doing at the ballpark. The Jackie Robinson Museum, for example, already featured "Barrier Breaker" historical markers paying tribute to trailblazers such as first Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm and first Black NHL player Willie O'Ree.

"Now it's about taking that idea to the local level, partnering with the African American Entrepreneurs Association to highlight local businesses and individuals in the community," said Jaworski.

The next edition of the Barrier Breakers Series, on June 10, will pay tribute to pitcher John Wright. While he's largely been overlooked, Wright broke the color barrier along with Jackie Robinson during that epochal 1946 season in Daytona Beach and Montreal. July 8's ballgame will focus on Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights activist who founded the historically Black school now known as Bethune-Cookman College. The school's baseball team now shares Jackie Robinson Ballpark with the Tortugas.

It was McCleod, more than anyone else, who made it possible for the Montreal Royals to play their 1946 Spring Training games in Daytona Beach. The team was originally slated to play in Sanford, Florida, but were run out of town due to the presence of Robinson and Wright. Speaking to MiLB.com in 2018, historian Bill Schumann said McLeod had cultivated political high-power political connections across America, working to "build coalitions of Blacks and whites."

"It was a different culture over there [in Sanford]," he continued. "They were not the same as Daytona Beach, because Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune changed the political culture of Daytona Beach with the way everybody worked together. ... She was like an American hero."

Jaworski said he's excited to keep working with the community to tell these stories, mentioning that the team is partnering with local schools on T-shirt design contests honoring McCleod and Robinson. There are always more stories to tell.

"We want to make sure that when people come to Jackie Robinson Ballpark, they know why it's Jackie Robinson Ballpark," he said. "There's a very significant history that comes along with that, and we're going to continue to tell it."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes **Ben's Biz Blog**. Follow Ben on Twitter **@bensbiz**.