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CERSOSIMO: Living a dream of today’s generation

There aren’t many people who know baseball like my grandpa.

It seems every occasion I’ve spent with my grandpa, Joseph Cersosimo, I’ve heard a new baseball story. However, the last one caused my jaw to drop.

He visited Mitchell from Rapid City nearly a month ago, and being a diehard baseball fan, we decided to rent “42” — a movie about Jackie Robinson’s history-making signing and first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 and first took the field in a game with the Dodgers on April 15 of that year. The MLB commemorates him each year on April 15 with Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the breakthrough he made on his debut. The MLB began the Jackie Robinson Day tradition in 2004 and every player in the league wears a No. 42 jersey — the only number that is retired for every MLB team — in his honor.

The No. 42 was retired throughout the MLB in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s first game.

Roughly 15 minutes into the 2-hour movie, my 75-year-old grandpa said a line that I’ll never forget.

“I saw Jackie Robinson play,” he said, turning toward my father, brother and me with a smile.

Naturally, we stopped the movie and immediately began asking questions. We couldn’t believe that someone who was a figure of change and greatness in baseball was very much a part of my grandpa’s life.

My grandpa lived in Queens, N.Y., from the time he was born in 1938 to the time he was 18. In other stories, he’d mention that his family was too poor to go to MLB games regularly.

I specifically remember stories of grandpa watching the New York Yankees, but never the Brooklyn Dodgers, which I should’ve looked into before now because he’s repeatedly mentioned that the Dodgers were his favorite growing up.

My grandpa watched the Dodgers when he was 10 years old during the 1949 season, a year when the Dodgers lost in the World Series to the Yankees. It was Robinson’s third year in the MLB, he recorded his career-high batting average at .342.

The movie, which premiered in 2013, illustrates what life was like for Robinson during his journey to being accepted in baseball. He faced racism from other clubs, fans and his teammates on occasion, and Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey helped Robinson to stay focused on the game. Robinson eventually becoming one of the most popular and beloved players in the sport.

My grandpa, who was familiar with most of the Brooklyn players’ careers from those years, thought the scenes where Robinson was getting ridiculed were pretty subtle. He said people were harsher than the movie showed.

In answering question after question, one thing caught my attention as my grandpa continued to talk about a time when Robinson was the talk of the country.

He added there were two kinds of people in “those days” — people who didn’t accept Robinson because of his color and people who praised him for his talent.

My grandpa was the latter, being a fan of baseball, not individual players.

To this generation, Robinson is a well-known sports figure whose story we know through cinema. But to those like my grandpa, who remember Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodgers No. 42 jersey, his legacy remains etched in their memories.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.