Bethune Cookman Sports Information
Wildcats Faced Robinson’s Washington Nationals in 2005 Spring Training
Bethune-Cookman will always be linked with Jackie Robinson, whose journey to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier began in Daytona Beach with the aid of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and at the ballpark that hosted his first spring training game – one that now bears his name and is the home of the Wildcat baseball team.
There’s also a BCU connection with Frank Robinson, the legendary ball player and first African-American manager in the Major Leagues, who passed away on February 7.
For one day, the Wildcats shared the field with Robinson. It was March 3, 2005 in Viera, Fla. in a spring training exhibition between BCU and the Washington Nationals in their first season after relocating from Montreal. It’s believed to be the first time an HBCU baseball program officially faced a major league club.
For Washington, the day before was all hoopla – national media was in full force as a sellout crowd watched the Nationals beat the New York Mets, who featured Carlos Beltran at the time, in a celebration of the national pastime once again featuring a team in the nation’s capital.
Day two for them was about getting back to business. The starters had the day off. Even the weather took the day off – the bright sunny day 24 hours before was now overcast and in the 50s.
Robinson officially had the day off also, letting an assistant handle the managing duties. He did revel in one official duty – making him readily available for photo ops. The one with Wildcat Head Coach Mervyl Melendez took place in the middle of the third inning. Hey, it was spring training.
The Nationals’ roster was primarily backups and minor leaguers with the exception of Esteban Loaiza, signed as a free agent and slated to be the No. 3 starter.
Bethune-Cookman, despite entering the game with a 3-13 record (one win was against Tennessee) and having to adjust from aluminum to wood bats, got two hits off Loaiza and capitalized on some errors for a 3-1 lead after three innings.
Washington came back, breaking open a 6-6 tie when Jared Sandberg, nephew of Chicago Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg, launched a bases-loaded double in the sixth as the Nationals finished with a 9-6 win.
Wildcat second baseman Carlos Picornell had a good game on the field with two hits, a stolen base, an RBI and a run scored. Afterwards, the highlight for him came when Robinson put his arm around him and complimented on his game.
Frank Radziwon, one of eight Wildcat pitchers that day, had a similar moment. Oh, he had to take the loss after giving up two runs, but got bragging rights when he struck out the side in the sixth.
Melendez had his moment as well after the game. Robinson offered his Nationals cap to Melendez and autographed it. Melendez returned the favor, and the Hall of Famer wore the Wildcat cap as he exited the field.
Robinson managed the Cleveland Indians during the last two years of his playing career (1975-76) and went on to manage the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles before the Expos/Nationals. His Hall of Fame playing career saw him become the only player to be named MVP in both the American and National leagues, 14 All-Star appearances, the 1966 triple crown and two World Series titles with the Orioles, with him earning World Series MVP honors in 1966.