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It’s Not Dodgers’ Night

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Butch Huskey sat in the New York Met clubhouse, trying to gather his emotions Tuesday night, but it was no use.

His eyes were misty. His body was shaking. His voice quivered.

“This whole thing just gives me the chills,” said Huskey, the Met third baseman. “Look at me, I’m still shaking.”

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It may have been a regular-season game, but the Mets’ 5-0 victory over the Dodgers on the 50th-anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson’s first major league game left a memory that will last the rest of their lives.

“This is a day that will never be forgotten in history,” said Met center fielder Lance Johnson, who drove in a career-high four runs in front of a paid crowd of 34,596 at Shea Stadium. “This is special. World Series games are special too, but people will forget about World Series.’

“But they will never forget about this game.”

It was a night when baseball celebrated Robinson’s integration of the game. The rest of society, acting much slower than Robinson desired, still wound up following his lead.

This is why it was so important to Huskey that the Mets not only win, but that he make an impact. Huskey, a 25-year-old from Oklahoma, was so moved by Robinson’s accomplishments growing up that he chose to honor him by wearing Robinson’s number, 42.

“I wanted to score the first run,” Huskey said, “and I wanted to make the last out. I think I wanted this more than any game I’ve played.”

Johnson, who caught the final out and gave the ball to Rachel Robinson, also made sure this night would belong to the Mets. Dodger starter Ismael Valdes was almost flawless the first four innings, yielding only two hits, but the Dodgers couldn’t score against Met starter Armando Reynoso.

The game was scheduled to be stopped after the Dodgers batted in the top of the fifth for the ceremony, but the Dodgers complained to Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn. It not only would prevent Valdes from pitching the necessary five innings for a decision, but it might provide an unfair advantage to the Mets. It was decided two hours before game time that the ceremony would be moved to after the fifth inning.

Yet, instead of pitching long enough for a victory, Valdes was left with the defeat. He issued a two-out walk to Matt Franco in the fifth inning, loading the bases, and then watched Johnson hit a grounder that deflected off second baseman Wilton Guerrero’s glove. Carlos Baerga and Alex Ochoa scored for a 2-0 lead, and the Mets put the game way in the seventh with three runs off reliever Scott Radinsky.

If it wasn’t enough of a privilege for Huskey to meet Robinson’s grandson, Jesse, and widow, Rachel, he stood in the dugout with his mouth open when acting Commissioner Bud Selig announced that No. 42 will be retired. Huskey and the four other players wearing No. 42 will be permitted to continue wearing the number until they retire.

“If I ever got an MVP award, a World Series MVP, it wouldn’t compare to this day,” Huskey said. “This jersey means more to me than anything you can imagine. It’s that much more special to me knowing that when I’m through with the game, No. 42 will be retired.

“Jackie did everything that had to be done, now all I have to do is wear the number on my back and represent what he meant.

“Believe me, I’m at a loss for words.”

The entire day had a festive, almost World Series atmosphere. There was Joe Black and Sandy Koufax talking about Robinson’s tenacity. There was Spike Lee asking why there is only one black general manager. There was J.C. Watts, talking about being the lone black Republican congressman. There was Larry Doby. And Reggie Jackson. And Jesse Jackson. And Branch Rickey III. And Lou Brock.

The center-field scoreboard had a picture of Robinson with film clips shown of Robinson in between each inning. There were thousands of secret servicemen and security guards and policemen. There were metal detectors. There was all of the weight room equipment scattered in the hallway to convert the room into a White House press room.

And, of course, there was President Clinton.

“How many times do you have a game,” Johnson said, “when you have Jackie’s wife and the President of the United States at your game?”

“What can I say?” Huskey said, “I guess I was born at the right time. I can’t wait to call my father.”

* REMEMBERING JACKIE

Baseball retired Robinson’s No. 42. Clinton said society can still improve in race relations. C6


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