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First One through the Wall

Posted on June 12, 2013 at 10:01 PM
First One through the Wall
    
 
 
      The following is my review of “42.”  I liked it, but then again, I’m a baseball guy.  Spitting seeds, the “suicide squeeze,” and the big fly get me going.  Watching a movie on the big screen is so much better; and I viewed the movie on Monday, April 15, “Jackie Robinson Day” in the Major Leagues, with a friend and Brooklyn Dodger fan, Bill Batey.  The movie carried many thoughts for me.  First, it served as a reminder for many, of a time for which most were not proud.  Second, it confirmed my passion for the grand old game, played at a time when these fellows played for the love of the game and not for the money.  Third, it showed that sports can bind differences; and fourth, Jackie Robinson began to resolve the conflict of racism with the character of restraint.  That is not so easy to do, unless perhaps you’re Mother Teresa.       The old saying goes, “The first one through the wall always gets bloody;” that my friend was certainly the case here.  On April 15, 1947, greatness stepped up to the plate; not so much as in the athletic sense, but as in the idea that everyone should be given the same chances in baseball as in life.  Robinson had “it.”  When he entered a room, things changed a little bit.  I can’t really define what “it” is, but I can spot it when it appears.       The visual effects used in the movie were magnificent as Ebbets Field, Forbes Field, and Crosley Field all came back to life.  The wardrobes and uniforms were perfect, along with the automobiles and buses of the day.  The writing was well done and the action appeared real.  Chadwick Boseman, who played Robinson, looked very much like Jack, even down to his smile.  Nicole Beharie and Harrison Ford portrayed Jack’s wife Rachel and the baseball visionary, Branch Rickey, whose story also needs to be told.  Lucas Black captured the quiet calm and professionalism of Hall-of-Famer “Pee Wee” Reese.          I was sorry to see the movie narrowed down to two years, 1946 and 1947.  It was like talking about only Gettysburg in the context of the Civil War.  There was so much more that happened before and after the color line was broken in baseball.  In my opinion, the movie was made 16 years too late.      I have been blessed to acquire a fine friend in these last several years, and it turns out he was an eyewitness to the career of Jack Roosevelt Robinson.  Jim Espey was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1937.  He now lives on North Padre Island with his wife, Mary.  I interviewed Jim for this article, one day during lunchtime at Beamer’s Sports Grill in Corpus Christi, Texas.  As a ten-year-old kid, Jim walked several miles to and from Forbes Field during every game, to sell newspapers to the baseball cranks before game time.  With each of my questions, I watched Jim’s eyes sparkle as his mind raced back sixty-plus years to his childhood.  I couldn’t tell who was more excited, him or me.  “Pittsburgh was a beer-drinking town,” laughed Jim, “especially on game day.  I would sell papers in the bars around Forbes Field.”  Jim sold the Pittsburgh Press newspapers for a dime apiece, to help support his mom.  “These guys would flip me a dollar for a paper and say keep the change.  When the game started, everyone would head into the ballpark and they would let me and the other boys selling papers in, for free.  We could sit anywhere we wanted, unless it was a sell-out.  Then we would just hang out inside.  The Pirates were not very good in those days, and most people went to the game to see the other team’s stars,” said Espey.  Forbes Field was a small park like Ebbets Field.  In 1947, it only sat 33,740.       “Most of the African-American population in Pittsburgh lived in a section called the Hill District,” said Jim.  “These folks made the three-mile walk to see Jackie Robinson play, every time Brooklyn came to town.  They all sat in the bleachers together in the same area for a buck a seat,” said Jim.  “When Robinson came to bat, they all clapped their hands and chanted in unison, ‘Jack-ie, Jack-ie,’ over and over,” smiled Jim.  The stands would also be full of African-American women every time Jackie played in Pittsburgh.  Jim estimated that 5,000 or more African-Americans attended the Brooklyn Dodger games.        “These were the days before television, and everyone listened to Rosie Roswell and Bob Prince ‘The Gunner,’ the announcers on the radio,” smiled Jim.  “Jackie was something to see, and I saw him play many times.  I saw him hit, steal bases, and he ran bowlegged and used every part of his body to run,” said Espey.  “Yes, there were racial slurs hollered out, but there were also some white folks who supported him.”  Jim later witnessed his hometown Pirates win the 1960 World Series over the vaunted New York Yankees with players the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris.  “They scored a lot of runs, but we won the Series,” laughed Jim.  “Everyone went crazy with joy.  You would have to walk through a foot of confetti on the street anywhere you went.”      Three of my favorite scenes from the movie were as follows.  Leo Durocher is suspended for the 1947 season by Baseball Commissioner, “Happy” Chandler.  Therefore, Rickey must find a new manager for his Dodgers.  He talks retired manager Burt Shotton into the job.  When Burt shows up in the dressing room to introduce himself to the Dodgers, he looks around and says, “You must be Robinson,” as everyone laughs.  Next is the scene where Jackie is catching hell from the fans in Cincinnati.  Shortstop “Pee Wee” Reese, a southerner from Louisville, Kentucky, wanders over to first base and puts his arm around Robinson to console him.  And the last of my favorite scenes occurs in the dressing room as Robinson is getting stitches from being spiked by St. Louis Cardinal, Enos Slaughter, while playing first base.  Rickey tells Robinson he was riding by a sandlot earlier that day and he saw a white kid rubbing dirt on his hands and swinging a bat, while pretending to be Jackie Robinson.  Whether those scenes are exact, makes no difference to me.  In the spirit of loving one another as we love ourselves, this movie is worth the price of admission.  Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or .EndFragment

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