Daytona Beach Archives - StoryCorps

“Show ’em Jackie”: Bat Boy Remembers Being On The Field With Jackie Robinson

George Bates grew up in a family of loyal Dodgers fans. One day in 1946, on a trip to Florida, George had the opportunity to see his beloved baseball team as they were conducting Spring training in Daytona Beach.

During that training season, the Dodgers organization debuted the first African American player in Major League Baseball history, Jackie Robinson. His presence was met with mixed reception, but the Bates family wanted to cheer on the newly signed player.

While filing into the stands, George and his brother, Robert, were spotted at random and asked to fill-in as bat boys for the game. George’s father, Robert Bates, Sr., filmed his sons at work, and ended up capturing the oldest known footage of Robinson as a professional player.

At StoryCorps, George sat down with his son, Bill Bates, to remember supporting Robinson’s first steps to making history.

Bill and George Bates, around the time Bill first saw the footage. Courtesy of Bill Bates.

More information about the Bates’ story can be found on the National Baseball Hall of Fame website. Film footage courtesy of Bill Bates.

Top Photo: George Bates interacting with Jackie Robinson during a Spring training game in 1946. Courtesy of Bill Bates.

Hear more about Jackie Robinson’s journey to the big leagues in Daytona Beach.

Breaking Baseball’s Color Barrier: How Jackie Robinson Inspired One Man “To Be Somebody”

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball when he took Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That day is a historic marker for racial progress, but his journey to becoming the first African American player in the majors began in Daytona Beach, Florida — a year earlier.

During the spring of 1946, Robinson was a member of the Montreal Royals, the minor league club for the Dodgers, and he was in Daytona Beach to train. In the segregated South, he couldn’t play on whites-only ballfields with the rest of his team, so he practiced at Kelly Field, a local playground in the Black section of town.

It was at Kelly Field where Harold Lucas, Jr. met Jackie Robinson.

Photo of 6-year-old Harold Lucas, Jr., from 1949. Courtesy of Harold Lucas, Jr.

The Royals were preparing to play a minor league game in Sanford, Florida, but segregation laws — and a mob of threatening townsfolk — prevented Robinson from taking the field. So Black leaders in Daytona Beach stepped in, and gave Robinson a place to play — and an opportunity for Black residents to cheer for him.

Harold Lucas attended Robinson’s first game, and remembered that day at StoryCorps.

Top Photo: D’Lorah Butts-Lucas, Harold Lucas, Jr. and Darryll Lucas after their StoryCorps interview in Daytona Beach, Florida on March 21, 2022.

Hear more about Jackie Robinson’s journey to the big leagues in Daytona Beach.

Originally aired April 15, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.