Nitkowski: '42' role brings home Robinson's path

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 15, 2013 at 8:42 am •  Published: April 15, 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: C.J. Nitkowski pitched for eight teams in the major leagues from 1995-2005, then played pro ball in Japan and South Korea. He portrays Phillies pitcher Dutch Leonard in the current film '42.'

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Jackie Robinson had no influence on me.

He didn't open any doors for me. He didn't pave any way. He didn't give me the hope that I could do anything I aspired to in a country where some viewed me as less of a man. He didn't give me the courage to forge ahead despite the circumstances surrounding me.

Jackie Robinson was just never a hero to me.

Jackie broke the color barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947, and he died in 1972. I was born in 1973 and really didn't have a clue as to what was going in the world until at least 50 years after Jackie's historic debut as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. We just never connected. He was a historical at best figure to me, as distant as Babe Ruth and JFK.

And, so, when baseball began recognizing Jackie every April, the question would always be presented: "What effect did Jackie Robinson have on you as a major league ballplayer?"

I could give each reporter or radio host the best politically correct answer you've ever heard. Ask me to be completely honest with you and what I would have said was, "None."

I grew up in a predominantly white New York City suburb. I was a Yankees fan who, as a kid, idolized Willie Randolph, their star second baseman in the '80s. Willie had more influence on me than Jackie ever did. Despite being left-handed, I wanted to be him. There were no thoughts of black or white. I didn't know the game or life any other way.

From 2007-10, I played baseball in Asia and, for the first time in my life, I was a minority. As the seasons went on, I started experiencing what I felt like was being treated as less than fair.

The conclusions I drew were that it was simply because of my race, not because of my actions. I was criticized more harshly than other teammates, expectations were higher for me and I was given less of a chance. I was under what I perceived as an unfair microscope and I was always looking over my shoulder.

Things reached a pinnacle during one game and the emotions that followed were raw and not anything like my personality. I didn't handle it well. I was full of ill thoughts. I wanted to lash out. I wanted to cause pain to those that I felt were suppressing my career.

I had never felt that way before, but what drew this out of me was the belief that I was being judged and underappreciated for no other reason but the fact that I was white.

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