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Gaston owes success to Robinson

Gaston owes success to Robinson

MINNEAPOLIS -- The numbers were hard to miss. Inside every locker within the visitors' clubhouse at the Metrodome, hanging on the same hook in each stall, No. 42 jumped out against the gray of the Blue Jays' road jerseys.

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On the 62nd anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, every player in Major League Baseball donned his number. For Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, walking in the clubhouse and seeing Robinson's "42" over and over was a special moment on Wednesday.

"I'm so happy that they're making us all wear that No. 42," Gaston said.

In 1992, when the Blue Jays won the first of back-to-back World Series titles, Gaston became the first African-American manager to guide a team to baseball's crown. Sitting inside the first-base dugout in Minnesota, Gaston said that achievement has gained meaning for him as the years have gone by.

Gaston knows that without Robinson, his life could have been drastically different. The baseball world changed with Robinson's part in that storied 1947 season, paving the way for millions of other minorities to break through the color barrier in sports and countless other aspects of society. That is something that the 65-year-old Gaston cherishes.

"Without him, I would not be sitting right here talking to you guys," Gaston said. "I never would have played the 10 years that I played in the big leagues. I certainly wouldn't have coached in the big leagues or managed in the big leagues. And we wouldn't have a black president right now.

"It goes way back. He changed the whole world and the way people think and the way things are done. This man here, he touched the world all over. He touched a lot of lives."

A few years ago, only a select few players requested to wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Since then, more and more players stepped up each season and the event grew to its current state, with every player on every team donning Robinson's number.

That is something Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells has enjoyed witnessing.

"It seems to get bigger and bigger each year," Wells said. "It's a tribute to a great man and a great era of, not only him, a lot of guys having to go through turmoil just to play the game of baseball. It's a good day to remember what they had to go through and to gives thanks."

Last year, Gaston assumed the managerial duties for Toronto in June after an 11-year absence from baseball. At the end of the season, Gaston was honored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which presented him with the Jackie Robinson Award for Career Achievement. Gaston said receiving the award felt like winning the World Series all over again.

"If I'm not mistaken, I might be the first African-American to ever win a division championship and World Series," Gaston said. "Then, to go back-to-back and win two and certainly turn around and get the lifetime achievement award of Jackie Robinson, to me, it was like I won three World Series."

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

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