On Campus: UCLA Honors Jackie Robinson

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Jackie Robinson is an important part of UCLA’s history. Before he became one of the most important players in baseball history, he played baseball (as well as football, basketball and track) for the Bruins.

Robinson remains an important figure to the program today. The Bruins play in Jackie Robinson Stadium, where a statue of him overlooks the playing field. UCLA retired the number 42 in all sports in 2014, the 75th anniversary of his arrival at the school.

So as MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson Day on Friday, the 69th anniversary of his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the breaking of the sport’s color barrier, it is only natural for UCLA to honor Robinson as well.

When UCLA opens its series at Washington on Friday, it will wear commemorative uniforms to honor Robinson. Adidas created a retro jersey and hat for the Bruins that attempts to replicate the uniforms worn in the 1940s. They also designed a special cleat featuring a drawing of Robinson sliding into second base and newspaper-style headlines from his career.

UCLA also has a home version of the jersey that it wore last year for Jackie Robinson Day, and again Tuesday in its final home game before the holiday. Coach John Savage said wearing the jerseys serves as another reminder of Robinson’s legacy.

“If you look at the home jersey and look at the road jersey, I think everyone would like them,” he said. “They’re old school, and it brings back a lot of memories in terms of how the uniforms work. They have Bruins on it, they have 42 on it. I think everyone can feel good about what he did for all of us really and what he did for game of baseball.”

Designing the uniforms was a collaborative effort for adidas, UCLA’s apparel provider. Aaron Kahn, senior director for adidas baseball; Matt Savoie, uniforms and product manager; Tanner Scott, uniforms and apparel senior designer; and Matt Van Wyen, footwear product manager, all worked on the project.

The team began thinking about the uniforms last year, and worked on them for about three months from the time they first began designing them until they had a finished product. Both UCLA and Robinson’s estate were consulted about the designs, and their feedback was incorporated into the final version.

Kahn said they took extra care when designing the uniform to make sure it represented Robinson’s place in the history of baseball and the country.

“In our eyes, there is no one more important to the game of baseball than Jackie,” Kahn said. “It’s exciting to work on projects like this and we want to make sure we pay homage to Jackie in the best way we can. We are truly honored to both work on and be associated with a project like this.”

Friday’s game will be a culmination of a special week for UCLA. The Bruins hosted Veterans Appreciation Day on Monday, when more than 100 military veterans came to Jackie Robinson Stadium to meet the team and take batting practice. Also in attendance at the event was Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a UCLA alumnus. The school celebrated Roberts, the first black manager in Dodgers history, the day before the Dodgers’ home opener Tuesday. PBS also premiered Ken Burns’ new documentary on Robinson, which Savage said the Bruins will watch as a team.

All of that serves as an additional reminder for the Bruins of the larger meaning of their most famous baseball alumnus, a man whose legacy they will celebrate Friday.

“It stands really for what we believe in, in the sense that he’s the pioneer of what he did in Major League Baseball, and our players can relate because Jackie, at one time, was in their shoes,” Savage said. “What he did for the game of baseball, what he did for UCLA, the military, the veterans, there’s so many people that he touched in so many different ways of life that it’s something that we’re very proud about and can feel like we’re a part of it, a small part of it. He was one of us.”

News and Notes

Atlantic Coast Conference: After giving up 19 runs in 5 2/3 innings across two starts against Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, sophomore lefthander Packy Naughton moved to the back of Virginia Tech’s rotation, where he has bounced back well the last two weeks. After a solid start at Louisville, Naughton held North Carolina to two runs (one earned) in seven innings last Sunday, as Virginia Tech snapped its 17-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory. Coach Patrick Mason said Naughton has made an adjustment to allow him to command his fastball better and throw it in the lower half of the strike zone more consistently in his last two starts. “He doesn’t have the velocity to just blow it by (hitters), but you can tell by their swings, when he’s down in the zone, they’re uncomfortable with their swings,” Mason said. “That’s been the biggest difference.” … As Boston College visits Notre Dame this weekend, the Irish will hold their fourth annual ALS Game Saturday. The funds they raise will to support the Pete Frates # 3 Fund and ALS research. Frates, who has ALS, played for Boston College while Notre Dame coach Mik Aoki was a coach for the Eagles. He has since become active in the efforts to find a cure for the disease and is credited with inspiring the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Big 12 Conference: No. 15 Texas Tech has a week off from Big 12 play, as it will host San Diego State this weekend. But when Texas Tech returns to conference action next weekend against Texas, it will take a 10-game conference winning streak into the series. The Red Raiders are 11-1 in the Big 12, the best start in conference play since Baylor went 18-0 to start the 2012 season.

Big Ten Conference: Nebraska has hit 30 home runs in 33 games this season, already its highest total since 2012, when the Cornhuskers hit 47 homers. First baseman Scott Schreiber leads the team with seven homers, but the power comes from throughout the lineup. Five Cornhuskers have hit at least four home runs this season, and the team ranks second in the Big Ten with a .449 slugging percentage. Coach Darin Erstad said the Cornhuskers made a team-wide change in approach after last season, and they have done a good job of maintaining it this spring. “I knew we’d drive baseballs, you just don’t know whether they’d go over the fences or not,” Erstad said. “We made a conscious effort to increase our OPS. We’ve done a nice job making some adjustments there and taking that on to the field.” … The Big Ten announced Tuesday that its conference tournament will be held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha from 2018-2022. The tournament was first played at the park in 2014, breaking attendance records, and will return there next month. The location of the 2017 tournament has not yet been decided. In 2014, the tournament drew 62,020 fans (the most in the event’s history), including an NCAA conference tournament record 19,965 fans for the championship game.

Pacific 12 Conference: UCLA, which came into the year with high expectations, has struggled at the start of the conference season. After sweeping Washington State on the first weekend of Pac-12 play, UCLA has lost its next three series, at one point falling into a seven-game losing streak. While the Bruins are 5-7 in the conference, they are only three games out of first place with more than half of the Pac-12 season left. Coach John Savage said there are signs that UCLA is close to turning it around. “You’re one weekend away from really getting back in it,” Savage said. “You’ve just got to stay with your team, stay positive.” … Southern California on Wednesday hired Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann to be its next athletic director. Swann, a USC alumnus, replaces Pat Haden, who is retiring at the end of June. Swann met with the team Thursday before the Trojans departed for a weekend series at Oregon.

Southeastern Conference: The long awaited debut of Louisiana State lefthander Jake Latz came Tuesday in a 7-0 loss to McNeese State. Latz was a key member of LSU’s top-ranked 2014 recruiting class. He ranked No. 208 on the BA500 that spring and was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 11th round. But injuries have plagued him since he arrived on campus, including a stress reaction in his elbow that sidelined him all of last year. The redshirt freshman threw 36 pitches in 1 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on three hits and a walk, and struck out two batters. Following his start, however, coach Paul Mainieri told reporters in Baton Rouge that Latz “didn’t feel so good the next day. “He didn’t respond to the game as well as we would have hoped after the fact,” Mainieri said. “It’s still a concern.” … Auburn coach Butch Thompson took some time away from the diamond Wednesday, making an appearance at the school’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity dunk tank. Proceeds from the fundraiser went to the Ability Experience, the fraternity’s philanthropic organization that helps people with disabilities.

Other conferences: Wright State had a good couple of days at the annual Joe Nuxhall Classic. The Raiders won the event for the fourth time in five years, defeating host Miami (Ohio), 4-0, in the title game Wednesday. That win was the 100th of coach Greg Lovelady’s career, bringing his record to 100-49 in three seasons. And Wright State welcomed junior catcher Sean Murphy back to the lineup Tuesday against Cincinnati after a hand injury sidelined him for about a month. … Entering last weekend, both Jacksonville State and Southeast Missouri State were undefeated in Ohio Valley Conference play. Jacksonville State ran its streak to 11 games before falling, 6-5, Sunday to Murray State. Southeast Missouri State saw its unbeaten streak end at 12 games with a 6-1 loss Friday at Austin Peay State. Both teams were off to the best start in the conference since 2001, when Eastern Illinois set an OVC record by winning its first 17 conference games.

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