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'Not walking around with blindfolds on now': Tigers' Gardenhire stung by players' stories

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Has Jackie Robinson Day and what it represents ever come at a more poignant time, the day after Major League Baseball games were postponed – including the Tigers-Twins game – in protest of the persistent social injustice in America?

“Yesterday was something we all felt we needed to take a stand on,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said.  “And now with Jackie Robinson Day, that’s always a special day and it goes hand in hand with what we talked about yesterday.”

Cameron Maybin

Cameron Maybin and Niko Goodrum spoke emotionally to the team in the clubhouse Thursday. Maybin gave an impassioned account of the meeting to the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

“The way I explained this to my teammates, everything that is going on, that has happened, why are we hearing about it? A big part of the reason we’re hearing about is one, social media of course. But two, because of entertainers, athletes, people with platforms are speaking up on it. Things that are happening in the neighborhood, when people try to use their voices, nobody can hear those people. This is why you’re seeing the player community, the athlete community, the Black community, trying to be that voice. That’s a big of part of what I tried to convey to my team.

“We all want to play. What gets misconstrued is (the idea) that guys don’t want to play. We want to play, but it’s bigger than us. That’s what gets lost in it. This is about the future, our children. I’ve got two young Black sons who I continue to have very hard conversations with. There are a lot of conversations (with players), a lot of concerns, a lot of questions about what MLB would do. We’re just trying to be unified as a group. Not only from a Black player standpoint, but from a player standpoint. We’re all brothers."

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Gardenhire, for one, was changed by the meeting.

“You just don’t have conversations like that typically, you just go about your business,” he said. “We’re in Major League Baseball and we’re all having a blast. But hearing their conversations…”

The players talked of their fears, just in driving to the ballpark or going to the grocery store, never knowing when they might get confronted. Goodrum talked about that Wednesday night.

"What’s going on is much bigger than a baseball game or any sport that’s going on,” he said. “These are lives that are being lost, day in and day out, of the same thing. It’s a shame that it’s going on the way it is. People who look like me are getting shot by the police. It's messed up.

“Every day you turn the TV on, and you're seeing the same thing. Something has to change."

Ron Gardenhire

The stories hit hard with Gardenhire.

“In my everyday life, that’s not something I ever thought about,” he said. “I just get in my car and go to the ballpark. To hear players talking about simple things like going to the grocery store and what can happen, that’s an eye-opener for me. It’s something that reached my heart.

“I apologized to them. I didn’t pay enough attention to what’s been going on in this country. But I will now, I promise you that. That’s what came out of it for me. I will be better for it. I will be more aware than I ever was.”

That, as Maybin said, is the entire point of athletes using their platform to speak out on these injustices – to create awareness.

“We’re not all walking around with blindfolds on now,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the biggest thing to come out of this. Just the awareness of what a black player, a Latin player, any player of color has to go through on a day-to-day basis. They shared that with us and that was really important.

“There is more awareness today than there was yesterday in our clubhouse.”

That rain threatened to cancel Jackie Robinson Day Friday didn't dampen the symbolism of celebrating the man who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

"I've always enjoyed this day, putting on No. 42 and hearing the stories of what he went through" Gardenhire said. "I can only imagine how that could've been. But to see how he handled everything he went through, he built a path for other black players and other players of color to be able to play baseball.

"That's really important to this game and to this country."

Twitter @cmccosky