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04/15/10 9:03 PM ET

Jackie's grandson honoring legacy

In Bronx celebration, Simms discusses new role with MiLB

NEW YORK -- Since Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig universally retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 on April 15, 1997, the date has become an annual event for Robinson's grandson, Jesse Simms.

Simms tossed the ceremonial first pitch Thursday at Yankee Stadium, just as he did in 1997, in a memorable dedication ceremony across town in Queens. This year is especially notable for Simms because, in a way, Thursday marks the kick-off of his deeper involvement in professional baseball.

Simms has been hired as a special assistant to Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, with his primary responsibility being the development of education programs and outreach efforts related to the organization's Diversity Initiative Program.

"This is a day that we look forward to as a family every single year, since 1997, when the Commissioner honored our family and my grandfather by retiring his number," Simms said.

"It's just really put a special emphasis on this day, April 15. For me personally, this is a beginning of a new involvement in terms of trying to bring diversity the best way that we can -- commercially, retail, hands-on, every single way."

Simms, the son of Sharon Robinson and grandson to Jackie and Rachel, considers Minor League Baseball to be an ideal employment opportunity.

He was directing a culinary arts program for students in New Jersey and Rhode Island before accepting his position with Minor League Baseball, quickly coming on board when O'Conner laid out the ideas of the program to him, with improving race and gender diversity in the industry being a primary goal.

"I did not have to think twice about it," Simms said. "I've been talking to various people in baseball about where things stand and where my role is, and it became really clear when I met with Pat O'Conner.

"He wanted to create a diversity initiative and I said, 'Listen, Pat, if I can be hands-on, I want to jump on.' It's much easier to do it at that level than it is at the Major League level. My goal is to have a hands-on product that everyone can see, smell and taste."

To that end, Simms will develop nationally distributed baseball-related educational curriculum while also participating in Minor League Baseball's Speaker Series at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

In a fitting twist, he will lead educational programs at Vero Beach Sporting Village at Dodgertown. The iconic Florida complex, which served as the longtime Spring Training home for Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers, is now operated as a multiuse facility by Minor League Baseball.

"I am dedicated with everything that I have to pulling this off the best way that I can."
-- Jesse Simms, on his new role with Minor League Baseball

"This is a initiative that needs to start at a grassroots level from a hands-on standpoint, and we're doing it with Minor League Baseball," Simms said. "In conjunction with what Major League Baseball has done in terms of their wonderful marketing and promoting, as well as their resources in the community, my mission is to spend the next year developing this educational system and hands-on training system."

Simms is also developing a clothing line for Major League Baseball through an affiliation with New Era, and said that he wants to highlight the roles of African-Americans in the game and influence communities in inner cities across the country.

"We're working on a new high-energy concept that's going to be a lot more attractive to minority communities," Simms said. "That's where I'm starting. We have to start somewhere. It started at the top with the Commissioner honoring my grandfather at the highest level, in such an iconic way. Now it's our responsibility as the guys that are on the grassroots level to make this happen."

The tasks at hand include making sure that young athletes are inspired and have the opportunities to play the same sport that Jackie Robinson played, shattering the game's color barrier in 1947.

"We have some of the best athletes in our inner cities, coming up playing basketball and football. I was one of them," Simms said. "There's no reason why we can't have these guys as baseball players, but we have to start our little recruiting process and initiative in terms of bringing the game to them.

"I am dedicated with everything that I have to pulling this off the best way that I can."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.