On Jackie Robinson Day, in a soccer stadium in the middle of Romania, everyone got to be #42, just like the men in the bigs…
Last Saturday baseball players around the world had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear #42. In honor of Jackie Robinson’s first day in the MLB, April 15, 1947, every April 15th is Jackie Robinson Day in all of American Baseball. This year, that tradition crossed the Atlantic and took root in the city of Constana, Romania as well.
It all started with a call. The Romanian Baseball and Softball Federation reached out to the US Embassy in Bucharest in the off-season to see if there was interest in collaborating on an event or project. The Embassy was on board without hesitation and recruited the Marines from the US base of Mihail Kogalniceanu to give them a hand.
This was the 70th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic opening day and everyone agreed, a perfect cause, and message, for celebration.
Though baseball has been in Romania for 27 years, not all the locals are familiar with the game. Like many countries in Europe, they have their own version of a stick and ball game called Oina. Similarity breeds interest so the American soldiers took to the schools to let folks know about the impending matchup and used Robinson’s story as an opportunity to promote the ideal of fair play that baseball and softball provide.
On-hand for the big day, along with 500 spectators, were the United States Ambassador to Romania Hans G. Klemm and Constana’s Mayor Decebal Făgădău. Romanian national team player Vlad Becsan told the local press, “There is a championship in Romania, they are among the first ten nationals in Europe, but I think that if we gather all the spectators from the matches played so far, there are still not as many as at this game.”
Festivities began at 11:00 at the Portul Stadium. Admittance was free and fans were happy to have a new experience. Andrei Mirescu, the president of the Romanian Baseball and Softball Federation, along with the other two men, opened the event. Ambassador Klemm said, “Jackie Robinson has become a symbol of equality and respect for minority rights. These are values respected both by Romania and the US.”
A 13-year old boy sang before Mayor Făgădău threw out the first pitch. Afterwards he commented, “That was the first throw in my life,” before getting into the heart of his speech, “We talk about sports, about uniting people, about tolerance, courage and breaking barriers. We plan to continue this event each year.” Then, someone yelled, Play Ball!
To help those new to the game understand what was happening the Federation developed and handed out brochures explaining the game. During the event, the PA announcer explained plays in real time to help engage the fans. While they may not have gotten all the rules straight away, based on the reports from the local papers, it’s clear they had the meaning, “Dozens of curious people shouted as hard as they could. Without knowing too many rules, the audience was attracted to the mirage of a show.” They went on to say that, though the game was not played at a stadium like they would have in the States, the atmosphere, in so much as player enthusiasm is concerned, was certainly the same.
And, as any true player does, the Romanian national team stepped up to the challenge. There was a trophy on the line and it was above their heads it would be hoisted at day’s end. The final score was Romania 7, Marine Scouts USA 2.
What did the Marines have to say of their defeat? US Marine John Harmon told the local press, "It seems fantastic to us to be playing a baseball game with Romania. We are not professional. We played in high school but we all love this sport. The Romanians are good and they beat us.”
Marine Joshua Coronado added, "We did not expect there to be so many people, we are excited. We trained well, but the level of play of the opposition is quite high.”
Mayor Făgădău was so pleased with the experience that he has asked to have Jackie Robinson Day be an annual event. Plans are already in the works so… imagine that. A field filled with 42s every year in the middle of April in a park somewhere in the heart of Europe.