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Watching Robinson change the game

Local teacher steps into baseball icon's cleats while appearing in "42"

POSTED: April 21, 2013 1:00 a.m.

People often dream about getting the opportunity to go back in time and meet their heroes.

Though he wasn’t able to actually time travel, one local teacher and baseball coach participated in the filming of a movie about his hero, baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

Kirklan Moore, a physical education teacher at Centennial Arts Academy and a softball and baseball assistant coach at Gainesville High School, plays a third baseman in the movie “42.”

Moore said he’s always loved Robinson and admired what he stood for, so the opportunity to be in a film about his life was too good to pass up.

In 1947, Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line by joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. His jersey number was 42.

According to the official Jackie Robinson website, www.jackierobinson.com, his number was the first one ever to be retired from all Major League Baseball teams.

Robinson is known not only for his achievements in baseball, but for his role in ending segregation and promoting racial equality. Robinson died in 1972.

The movie “42” follows Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, and Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, in his rookie year.

Moore said several of the scenes in the movie drove home a lot of the struggles his hero faced as he stepped into the MLB spotlight. He said he’d studied Robinson in school and admired the man for standing up to such intense public scrutiny and racism, but he didn’t realize how cruel people were to his hero until witnessing reenactments during movie filming.

Moore said he often felt uncomfortable while watching the cast film scenes over and over every day.

“Even understanding that they’re just acting it’s still uncomfortable to hear those words,” Moore said. “It kind of puts you back in time there. You just sit there and wonder how could one human being treat another like this. We see them as equals, they’re all our friends. But it helps you to see how important someone like Jackie Robinson is. It took someone who was extremely tough to endure all that. It’s a big eye opener.”

Moore said his role in the film provided a learning opportunity for many of his students. Some of his younger students learned about Robinson in class a few weeks ago. The film has helped open their eyes as well.

Moore admits he was hesitant about some of his younger students watching the movie because of the language, but feels as long as parents help explain the context the movie provides an opportunity for students to learn about the past.

“A bunch of these kids had no idea what it was about or why people we treated like that,” Moore said. “I think if they see it, as long as their with an adult obviously, it would be very helpful for them to understand what some of these people in history have gone through, people like Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King.”

Ninth-grader Jack Langford said he and a few of his baseball teammates went to the movie together. Langford said he, too, grew up knowing about Robinson and admiring him as an athlete but had no idea how far the racism Robinson faced went until watching the movie.

“It was really surprising to me about how extensive they were about racism,” Langford said. “You see it today still but not as much. They just wouldn’t have anything to do with him. It kind of makes you mad about how people treat other people. But it’s a good story about how far people have come as a whole in treating other people.”

Other than the uncomfortable racial slurs during filming, Moore said he enjoyed the experience.

Filming took place from sunrise to sunset almost everyday last summer in Birmingham, Ala., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Macon. He and 25 other experienced baseball players were cast as members of competing teams. Moore played third base for the Cardinals and Pirates and shortstop for the New York Giants in the movie.

Players spent four weeks prior to filming in an old-school baseball training camp. Players were given old-fashioned baseball equipment such as wooden bats without knobs, cleats and gloves.

It was at training camp where Moore got to know some of the film’s stars, such as Lucas Black who plays Pee Wee Reese, a teammate of Robinson’s and shortstop for the Dodgers. Moore said he and the others got to know Boseman very well during training. He said Boseman trained every day with the players and took the job seriously, because he understood how important it was to play the baseball legend.

“It’s crazy you see these guys on the big screen and then here they are in real life and they’re just down to earth,” Moore said. “You wouldn’t think they were movie stars, it was really cool.”

Ultimately, Moore said, his experience with the film has given him a much better appreciation for the past and the people who help restructure society.

“They saw the bigger picture and knew what they were standing for,” Moore said. “They were paving the road for their race. It’s huge. I don’t think I could have been able to handle what Jackie Robinson handled.

“But that’s part of what Branch Rickey saw in him. He told him ‘You’re gonna catch all this from everyone from every angle. You’ve got to be tough and keep your mouth shut because there’s a bigger picture here and it’s all on your shoulders.’ 

“... To be able to perform on the field the way he did with all that pressure on the outside, it’s incredible.”


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