LOS ANGELES — In the forgotten sport of college baseball, there once existed a hero whose legacy will never be forgotten. Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, forever cementing his legacy as a cultural hero, he was a Bruin.
On Sunday afternoon, the UCLA baseball program honored him in a ceremony at the stadium of his namesake.
In an event that was a year in the making, UCLA unveiled a mural of Robinson. The mural, commissioned by Mike Sullivan, an Orange County-based artist who has created sports-themed pieces for teams all over the country, features Robinson in a Bruins uniform with his number, 42, prominently displayed, as well as images of his past, such as the U.S. Army and Negro League logos.
“Jackie was a legacy, there’s no doubt about that,” said UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero. “It’s so important to keep his memory alive, not only for those who had the chance to see him play or those who remember him because their parents saw him play, but for all of the students who come on to campus, all of the young generation of baseball players and athletes.
“It’s an important point that they remember Jackie Robinson and what he stood for and what he did.”
For Sullivan, it was an important moment that brought the legacy to a local level.
Robinson spent much of his childhood in Pasadena after his mother relocated the family from Georgia. He played at John Muir High School before UCLA, playing baseball, basketball, football and running track at the high school and collegiate level. Robinson met his wife, Rache,l at UCLA and Sullivan wanted to create something impactful for the Bruin community.
“The inspiration for this mural, I wanted to create an image that past, current and future students could be inspired by,” Sullivan said. “By both his story and his career at UCLA, being the first athlete to letter in four sports and how that set him up for life and what he had to deal with.”
Sullivan contacted UCLA about a year ago and brought up the idea of doing a piece about Robinson. The artist is currently in the process of creating a series of pieces at college campuses around the country for a book. But Sullivan’s work isn’t limited to just the two major college sports, he wanted to create an image to recognize the athletic accomplishments of a sport that doesn’t typically get as much attention.
“It’s not all about college football,” Sullivan said. “There’s amazing athletes and stories and they put in the same efforts as the football teams do. I think they deserve the attention as well and to let their stories be told.”
Robinson’s UCLA baseball career was short-lived. He played just one season, batting .097. He was better known for football and track and field, winning an NCAA championship in 1940 in the long jump. But his presence is still felt in the baseball program, as the team plays in Jackie Robinson Stadium with a statue of Robinson overlooking the field on the concourse.
“The courage, sacrifice and honor that Jackie Robinson displayed in the face of severe adversity helped change not only the game of baseball but the lives of thousands of people who followed in his path,” said junior outfielder Brenton Allen. “His strength and talent is something that is remembered each and every day in this program.”