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04/15/09 3:31 PM ET

Cubs honored to represent Robinson

Players, coaches moved to be part of league-wide tribute

CHICAGO -- Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has worn No. 42 both times it was made available to to players who wanted to honor Jackie Robinson the last two years. On Wednesday, Lee was joined by every player on the Cubs roster as well as Lou Piniella and the entire coaching staff.

"It represents a great man, a great baseball player," Cubs outfielder Joey Gathright said of the league-wide tribute to Robinson on Wednesday. "It's nice to have everybody show respect."

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Micah Hoffpauir didn't believe his wife when she told him that all of the players would participate in the tribute to Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But every player had a No. 42 jersey for the Cubs' game Wednesday against the Colorado Rockies.

"I think it's very well deserved," Hoffpauir said. "You're talking about a guy who went through unbelievable odds and people going crazy [toward him]. The fact that he still performed at the level he performed at is what's so great to me.

"I know it's a cliche, but you tip your hat to people like that who are strong and able to carry what he carried on his back and still be able to perform," Hoffpauir said. "I think that's awesome."

The Cubs honored four Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars before Wednesday's game. They included Artis Lewis, a freshman biology and economics major from Chicago at the University of Chicago; Jasmyne McDonald, a freshman communications major from Berkeley, Ill., at Northwestern; Lauryn Nwampka, a senior comparative human development and African American studies major from Evanston, Ill., at the University of Chicago; and Troy White, a freshman business administration major from Chicago at Northern Illinois University. White plays third for the NIU baseball team, and was drafted in the 48th round last June by the Cleveland Indians.

The four serve as ambassadors of Robinson's philosophy, "A life is not important except in its impact on other lives." Lee, Gathright and Milton Bradley posed for pictures with the foursome as they were introduced at home plate prior to the game.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation was established 36 years ago to honor Robinson's pioneering legacy. It provides four-year college scholarships, graduate school grants, extensive mentoring, leadership training and career development programming to academically gifted minority students who otherwise would lack the financial resources to attend college.

In March 2004, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig designated April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day throughout the Major Leagues.

On April 15, 1997, on the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, his No. 42 was retired throughout baseball. In 2007, in honor of the 60th anniversary of Robinson's first Major League game, the retirement was temporarily lifted to allow players to pay homage to him by wearing his number. This season, all of the Cubs and Colorado Rockies players, coaching staff and managers will wear No. 42.

More than 330 players and on-field staff wore No. 42 in 2008, including Lee. Having everyone wear No. 42 should help raise awareness.

"It's about honoring him and educating people about what he's done," Lee said. "Now, you can't miss it. You'll see everyone wearing 42 and if you don't know, you'll ask, 'Why are they doing that?' and someone will explain what's going on."

"Jackie had a wonderful, wonderful career and he was a wonderful human being," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "It's an honor, quite an honor [to wear No. 42]. I hope that after the ballgame, we can be 1-0 with me wearing 42."

The Cubs lost, 5-2, to the Rockies, so Piniella will be back in his familiar No. 41 on Thursday.

"I've watched a lot of the Ken Burns series and he made the comment that baseball was ahead of its time," Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson said. "You basically saw integration and acceptance of the black community in the game of baseball before you saw it in the United States of America out in the communities. I think it's great to see and remember how far we've all come as human beings and to realize the mistakes that have been made and learn from our mistakes. This is a great opportunity to remember.

"It's not just that [Robinson] was one of the first black players to play in Major League Baseball," Johnson said, "but he was a pretty darn good one as well. To endure everything he's been through, it makes everything that players today go through seem miniscule."

Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall said he was struck by the importance of the day when he stopped by the clubhouse on Tuesday's off-day and saw all the No. 42 jerseys hanging in the lockers.

"It's a good day today," Marshall said. "There's a reason why everybody in the league is wearing his number and it's because he did great things for the league. It's great to represent him this way."

Some players didn't like that only African-American players wore No. 42, and wanted to take part in the tribute. Gathright said he thinks players should be able to decide if they want to wear it.

"[Robinson] broke barriers for us, and did it for all of baseball," Gathright said. "I think it should be an option and you shouldn't have to [wear it] if you don't want to."

"I think it's a great idea [for everyone to wear it]," Lee said. "Everyone just puts it on and it solves the arguments they were having. It's a great way to honor him, he deserves it, and it's a special day."

Gathright said he'll wear No. 42 every chance he can as long as he plays the game.

"If you're black and you play this game, you should know about Jackie," Gathright said. "If you don't, you shouldn't be playing."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.