Heyward remembers Jackie as a role model

Heyward remembers Jackie as a role model

ATLANTA -- The movie "42," the recently-released Hollywood version of Jackie Robinson's story, resonates with Braves right fielder Jason Heyward.

What is especially significant for Heyward is that Robinson understood what it meant to be a role model.

"You have to understand people are watching you, especially the kids," Heyward said. "It's about handling yourself the right way, which he did. Playing the game on the field a certain way, hustling, doing all the little things."

The Braves and Royals honored Robinson's legacy Tuesday night by wearing No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute.

Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who is of Cuban heritage, said Robinson did not just open the door for African-Americans, but for all nationalities.

"I read the book. I couldn't imagine all the pressure he was under to play a game," Gonzalez said.

The Braves currently have three African-American players in the outfield, but Heyward is not sure what impact this will have on Atlanta's youth.

"It's about opportunity," Heyward said.

What he meant was that kids are playing more football than baseball by a wide margin, partly because there are far more college scholarships available in NCAA Division I football (85) than baseball (11.7).

Heyward has another connection to Robinson, who played at UCLA. Heyward's uncle, Kenneth Washington, was a basketball player at UCLA and part of the early Bruins dynasty (1963-66) under coach John Wooden. In addition, both Heyward and Robinson were born in Georgia.

"Pretty cool," he said.

Ray Glier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.