Les Patterson??Ÿ?¦Ÿ??s Monday Morning Boost: Spring Training & Jackie Robinson

Spring Training arrived in Florida in 1986 just as it does today… with a blast of wintery north quickly melted by the warm southern sun. The only difference… I was there in 1986.
I was working as a church missionary in Plant City that spring, a small farming town in central Florida just east of Tampa. Plant City was famous as the Winter Strawberry Capital and their Strawberry Festival is quite the shindig.
One day we were walking down the street of Plant City. We had just dropped our ten-speed bikes off for repairs at a local bike shop when a jacked up black truck with Texas plates skidded to stop next to us. A towering man jumped down from his truck illegally parked in the road and rapidly approached us.
“Are ya’ll Mormon missionaries,” he barked in a deep southern drawl. Despite our white shirts, ties, and black name tags being a dead giveaway, and our commitment to “stand for the faith,” we both seriously wondered how to safely answer his questions.
“Yes sir,” we both somewhat hesitantly mumbled under our breath.
“Well, how do!” he exclaimed while shaking our hands in a grip strong enough to squeeze orange juice out of Louisville Slugger. Our new friend, whose name I don’t remember, was support staff for the Texas Rangers and was trying to find the ballpark their minor league team played at. Plant City at the time was where the Rangers worked out their minor league players due to lack room at their spring training home in Pompano Beach. We helped him find his way and he extended an invitation to watch the team play the next day.
The thought of seeing a real baseball game immediately brought out the excited little boy in me. I played the game America calls its National Pastime through Little League and the start of Pony League. That’s when I realized being scared of the pitcher, a critical weakness since day one, wouldn’t allow me to go very far playing the game.
Still, I had a great love for the game and was excited to go see some real players play a real game. We only had time the next afternoon to take in the final inning of the game. The driver of the jacked up truck made a big deal of our help and recruited a few players to visit with us. As we stood at the fence line talking I believe they asked as many questions about our white shirts and ties on a hot Florida afternoon as we did about theirs.
Spring training is over, the regular season started, and the most important game of the season just may be the one to be played this week. Wednesday, April 15th, is Jackie Robinson Day, the day Baseball honors Jackie Robinson breaking through the “color barrier” when he made his major league debut Opening Day 1947. The day is celebrated by all players, coaches, and managers on both teams, and even the umpires, wearing #42 on their jerseys.
Have a great Monday!!! Thanks for letting me share.
p.s. Take 15 minutes today to enjoy a look at a feature from the movie “42” honoring Jackie Robinson.


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