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04/15/08 7:58 PM EST

Rays, Yanks honor Robinson's legacy

Jackson, Rivera among players proud to wear No. 42

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera wore No. 42 on Tuesday night, just as he has done every game since signing debuting with New York in 1995. But he was hardly the only player wearing No. 42, as the entire Rays team and a number of Yankees donned the jersey in honor of Jackie Robinson Day.

Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was established to honor Robinson's legacy as the first African-American to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Although Robinson's uniform number was retired throughout the Major Leagues in 1997, Rivera was granted permission to keep No. 42, since he wore the jersey before that date. Rivera is the only active player to wear No. 42, but said on days like Tuesday, he doesn't mind sharing.

"I think it's a good idea," Rivera said last week. "I think everyone should wear it that day to honor Jackie for what he did for all minorities. It's tremendous. I remember hearing about how he played from [former Yankees coach and current Rays senior advisor] Don Zimmer. Zim told me how Jackie was always one of the guys who would help out and how hard he played. It was a different time."

While both teams paid the legend well-deserved respect, few can say they shared a clubhouse with Robinson, or spent sunny days in St. Petersburg working on their golf game together, as Zimmer did.

"It's an honor the way certain clubs are wearing 42 -- the whole team, like our team," Zimmer said. "I just look back and just think of how lucky I am to play on the same team with him.

"I wasn't there in the early days, when he really had to go through hell, as they say; it had lessened by the time I got there, but it was still tough. He had to be a very strong man, to go through the whole ordeal that he went through, no doubt."

Besides the entire Rays squad, the Yankees' Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano joined Rivera in wearing No. 42, along with manager Joe Girardi.

"It's special," Girardi said. "You think about people that have had such an impact on our world, and Jackie is one of them, 61 years later.

"The impact is still felt, to me, on a daily basis in our country. It's an honor. Sometimes you feel that maybe you're not worthy, but it's nice to be a tribute to it."

Cano is a living tribute of sorts -- his father named him after the legend, and Cano also switched his number to 24, partially to recognize the impact Robinson had on the game.

"That's a guy we have to remember not just every year, but every day," Cano said. "Whoever decided to [wear No. 42], that was a great idea."

Members of each team also signed a home plate, which will be donated and later auctioned off by the Jackie Robinson Foundation. In every Major League ballpark hosting a game on Tuesday, a Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Tropicana Field was honored with scholars Carolyn Alvarez-Walter and Terrance Porter, who served as reminders of Robinson's commitment to excellence and ability to continue to inspire future generations.

"As a person, he pretty much stuck his neck out on the chopping block to play and to get everyone else to let him play," Rays pitcher Edwin Jackson said. "It's definitely an honor and a number I will wear proudly."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.