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‘It means a lot to me to just be able to put on a uniform.’ Tim Beckham, Mariners honor Jackie Robinson

Shortstop Tim Beckham shares a laugh with Dee Gordon while in the tunnel waiting for player introductions before the game. The Seattle Mariners played the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, March 28, 2019.
Shortstop Tim Beckham shares a laugh with Dee Gordon while in the tunnel waiting for player introductions before the game. The Seattle Mariners played the Boston Red Sox in a Major League Baseball game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Thursday, March 28, 2019. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Monday morning, for baseball’s annual Jackie Robinson Day, Seattle Mariners shortstop Tim Beckham wrote a short, poignant message on his Twitter account.

“Thank you for making it possible for us to play the game we love,” Beckham wrote.

Beckham shared a photo of Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, another of him standing next to a photo of Robinson, and two more from Beckham’s own MLB playing career.

From the Mariners clubhouse later that afternoon, Beckham detailed how much meaningful Robinson and this day of celebration are to him.

“It means a lot to me to just be able to put on a uniform,” Beckham said. “Especially on a day like this when it’s Jackie Robinson Day, and we’re honoring a special human being.”

Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier when he made his MLB debut on April 15, 1947, becoming the first African American to play in the majors in the modern era. His historic 10-year career led to a Hall of Fame induction in 1962.

His legacy continues to inspire players across baseball, including Beckham. As they do each year, all 30 major league clubs, including the Mariners, wore No. 42 on their uniforms Monday.

“Jackie Robinson played with a lot of energy,” Beckham said. “He got on the base, he wreaked havoc on the bases. He didn’t allow so-and-so calling him names from the other side of the dugout to make him play the game a certain way.

“He played the game with no fear, and he played the game to have fun. He was a great guy, a great human being, and that’s why he was able to do what he did. ... It takes a special human to be able to do what he did.”

Beckham said it is special to look across the dugout in MLB games, and see so many African American players in uniform that Robinson paved the way for.

The 29-year-old shortstop, who grew up in Griffin, Ga., said his love of baseball prompted him to get involved with the sport when he was young. He eventually became the first overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Growing up where I grew up, a lot of my friends weren’t really playing baseball,” Beckham said. “Me and my brothers played baseball growing up. My dad got us into it. He was a very big baseball fan.

“If you talk to him, he’ll tell you about guys who played on the Braves way back in the day, because his dad used to watch it, and his grandad used to love baseball.”

Beckham lives in Atlanta during the offseason, and has been active in the community, including hosting baseball clinics at his former high school in Griffin.

He said the way to grow baseball in minority communities is to continue giving back, bring the energy he plays with on the field to those communities, and show how much fun he has playing the game.

“When it’s real energy and when it’s organic energy, it kind of flows naturally, and you pick up off of that,” Beckham said, noting the Mariners clubhouse has a natural energy this season.

“That’s the pretty good thing about this ball club. We’re vibeing off of each others’ energy, and feeding off each others’ energy. And that’s real.”

The grass at T-Mobile Park adjacent to both the first- and third-base lines was painted for Monday’s celebration with the words “Jackie Robinson Centennial.” Robinson would have turned 100 years old on Jan. 31.

No. 42, Robinson’s uniform number, which was retired across baseball in 1997, hangs alongside Seattle’s retired numbers (No. 24 for Ken Griffey Jr., and No. 11 for Edgar Martinez) in center field.

SWANSON GETS START

Mariners manager Scott Servais said right-hander Erik Swanson will start in place of injured lefty Wade LeBlanc on Wednesday. Swanson, a 25-year-old rookie, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday.

“He’s pretty level,” Servais said. “He doesn’t get too excited one way or the other. We’ll fire him out there, hopefully he’ll give us a competitive fix, six innings, and we’ll go from there with our bullpen.”

In his April 4 start with the Rainiers, Swanson threw five scoreless innings, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out eight.

Swanson made his MLB debut as a reliever with the Mariners last week in Kansas City, tossing two innings and allowing two earned runs on three hits, while walking two and striking out four.

His first start with Seattle will also be his first start at the major league level.

“I think he’s ready,” Servais said. “We brought him up early. He handled coming out of the bullpen fine. I like how his stuff plays. He’s not going to overthink it or get too complicated.”

CLEVELAND TIES

Four of the players on the Mariners’ active roster have played for Cleveland during the past five seasons.

First baseman and DH Edwin Encarnacion played both the 2017 and 2018 seasons in Cleveland, and came to Seattle in December as part of the deal that sent first baseman Carlos Santana to the Indians.

Santana paces a slow-starting Cleveland offense this season with a .383/.508/.532 slash line and 10 RBIs. Encarnacion has a .283/.409/.509 slash line with 12 RBIs and four home runs.

Jay Bruce, who leads the Mariners with seven home runs this season, played the 2017 season with the Indians, and has said Seattle’s hot offensive start reminds him a lot of that ballclub.

“Honestly, it feels a lot like when I was with the Indians in 2017,” Bruce said. “You didn’t want to be the guy to go up there and not have the quality at-bat.

“I think it’s great. We have a lot of guys who are very competitive in that sense, and it’s awesome. It’s for the team. It really drives everyone in the right way. It’s been fun to be a part of, and fun to watch.”

Relievers Shawn Armstrong (2015, 2016, 2017) and Anthony Swarzak (2015) have also previously played for Cleveland.

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