08/16/12 2:55 PM ET
Braves, Dodgers looking forward to CRG weekend
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Now in the sixth year of the event, it appears MLB has arranged the ideal matchup.
The Braves and Dodgers, a pair of history-rich franchises, will compete in the Civil Rights Game on Saturday night. The game, which will be broadcast live on MLB Network, stands as the centerpiece of a weekend that will pay tribute to those who fought, both on and off the field, for equal rights for all Americans.
"This is a good city for this event, because you know people are going to come out and raise some awareness to the whole thing about how African-Americans became a part of the game [and] the significance the Negro Leagues played," Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said. "Baseball is America's pastime. People put their differences aside and the game united them."
This marks the first time since the CRG was first staged in 2007 that the event will include the Dodgers, who spearheaded baseball's civil rights movement by giving Jackie Robinson a chance to break the game's color barrier in 1947.
Three years later, the Boston Braves would welcome Sam Jethroe, their first African-American to reach the Major League level.
"We're such a big part of it, you know, with Jackie and Don Newcombe, [who] I know is going to get honored there, in Atlanta," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "There's a luncheon a lot of us are going to go to. I think it's cool. I talked to our guys, and they knew before, but just our place in history as an organization is really neat. And we're right in the middle of that. To be a part of that game, it's kind of cool."
Both the Braves and Dodgers will enter this weekend's three-game series with legitimate postseason hopes. Los Angeles entered Thursday leading the National League West. Atlanta owns the NL's third-best record and a four-game lead for the top spot in the NL Wild Card standings.
Though injury prevented him from playing in last year's Civil Rights Game, Heyward enjoyed the opportunity to experience many of the events surrounding it. This year, Matt Kemp and many of his Dodgers teammates will be experiencing these festivities for the first time.
"It was pretty cool," Heyward said. "I appreciated [Phillies manager] Charlie Manuel playing all of his black guys on his team. Wearing the throwback jerseys was pretty cool, and we got to take some black-and-white pictures that made for some cool photos. It's something I really enjoyed."
Along with being a series that will influence positioning in playoff races, this weekend's games will also provide fans with a chance to learn more about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose former church still stands approximately two miles from Turner Field. There will also be stories told about Robinson and Hank Aaron, who battled racial hate on the way to breaking Babe Ruth's home run record on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta.
"I don't know a lot about the event, but it will be an honor to experience it and play in the game," said Braves center fielder Michael Bourn, who was acquired from the Astros after last year's Civil Rights Game was staged.
One of the highlights of this year's CRG weekend will once again be the Beacon Award Luncheon presented by Belk. The awards are annually given to individuals whose lives are emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement.
This year's winners include Newcombe, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Georgia congressman John Lewis and the founding members of the recording group Earth, Wind & Fire.
Kemp is scheduled to present the award to Newcombe.
Having played for the Reds when Cincinnati hosted this event in 2009 and '10, Braves shortstop Paul Janish is not a stranger to what is scheduled this weekend.
"It was a big deal, and for us it kind of filtered down, because with [Reds manager Dusty Baker], it resonated a lot with him as well," Janish said. "It's cool. It obviously brings back a lot of historical significance. We enjoyed it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.