by Crystal Kupper,
“That singer’s full of crap,” Nick mumbled. He yawned, head-butting his pillow into the perfect resting place, trying to steal one more minute’s rest.
I rolled over, carefully switching Avinly from one side to the other. At 7:30 in the morning after a night of feedings, my brain was in no state to solve the easiest of puzzles. Down the hall, I could hear the dog whining for his breakfast, the cat meowing to be let out and the boys fighting over a toy. All loudly. We had exactly 90 minutes before we had to have 3 small children and ourselves fed, dressed and in the van for church.
“What singer?” I asked.
A few weeks ago, Avinly had her first movie theater experience when Nick and I had a date night and saw “42.” It’s the story of Jackie Robinson (the first black baseball player in the major leagues) and Branch Rickey (the manager who signed him). I’ve long known and loved the story — and even had the chance to meet Branch Rickey III when I spoke at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown– but the movie brought up some parts I had forgotten.
Like Charlie Thomas.
Charlie Thomas played baseball for Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 1900s. Branch Rickey, a Midwestern white boy, was the team’s catcher. After playing an away game, a hotel turned Thomas away. The rest of the team could sleep there, they said, but Thomas couldn’t. All because he was black.
Rickey tried his best to fix the situation, offering to let Thomas sleep on a cot in his room. But the situation haunted him for years. Decades later, he made his move while managing the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. He signed a black man. Overnight, Jackie Robinson became a hero to many. And over time, as his baseball skills proved themselves over and over — he was a 6-time All Star, World Series winner and league MVP — he became a hero to everyone.
Today, we applaud and celebrate Jackie Robinson, and rightly so. There’s dozens of books, a blockbuster movie and a documentary all centered on him. His number is the only one retired across all of baseball. School kids know his stats, because he’s literally in the history books.
Jackie Robinson is famous. He got all the accolades.
But what about Charlie Thomas? Only weirdo, diehard baseball trivia fans like me know about him…and that’s only because I looked up tons of info on Rickey after meeting his grandson.
Thomas suffered the same racism as Robinson. Thomas was talented like Robinson, and he loved the game like Robinson. Sadly, he never got the same chance as Robinson.
But here’s the naked truth: there would be no Jackie Robinson story — no “42” — without Charlie Thomas.
It was Thomas who planted the seed in Branch Rickey’s social consciousness. It was Thomas who tangibly demonstrated the color barrier’s idiocy to a man who could someday do something about it.
It was Thomas who got to first base. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson just batted him home.
Often, as a stay-at-home mom to small children, I feel unnoticed and underappreciated. I wonder if what I’m doing makes a difference. I feel guilt over my weight, the fact that my boys eat their boogers and that my fridge contains a myriad of non-organic food. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy for the awesome task in front of me. I chafe at a society that tells me my job isn’t nearly as important as being a lawyer, businesswoman or doctor.
And part of me wonders whether my teenaged dreams of changing the world — of using my talents to fight for social justice — are dead and gone.
And then I remember Charlie Thomas.
I’m not saying the answer is to stop trying, to play dead or hand the reigns to someone else. What I am saying is that sometimes, even when you don’t see the fruit the right away, serving exactly where you are is enough.
Enough to teach you that there is more than one way to play the game and still win.
And right now, my soul is immensely full and full-time in the Zone.