For Kemp, now in his sixth Major League season, the significance of donning a No. 42 jersey has not diminished one bit. In fact, the importance of Jackie Robinson Day has only grown for him at a time when systemic racism has been at the forefront of the national conversation over the past few years.
“Driving to the field today, you take a step back and realize a person like myself wouldn’t be able to come to a big league park if it wasn’t for Jackie Robinson doing what he did,” Kemp said before the series opener against the Tigers. “It means a lot. Jackie is a guy that will always be looked up to. He will always mean a lot to me.”
Kemp is among the more than 100 players who donated their gameday salary on Jackie Robinson Day to support The Players Alliance, a group of more than 100 Black current and former professional baseball players united to create increased opportunities for the Black community in every aspect of baseball.
Formed in 2020, The Players Alliance has donated around $41.7 million to Black communities, according to the organization’s website. The work put in by the group is something Kemp believes has planted the seed for revitalizing interest in the game among the African-American community.
“Being able to donate your day’s salary to The Players Alliance and being able to do all these cool things is huge,” Kemp said. “Just building the game and getting more Black players to get into the game of baseball and break more barriers is big.”
Kemp is the only African-American player on the A’s active roster. Around baseball, the numbers are low, with three Major League teams without a single African-American player on their active roster. Through the many events put together by The Players Alliance, such as the Pull Up Neighbor Tours — which were put together over the winter to assist kids in the inner cities around the country by providing vital equipment like gloves and bats — Kemp said the impact currently being made in those communities will soon show up in the game down the road.
“These kids get to go to the Pull Up Tour and get this equipment that is expensive that they can’t afford on a regular basis,” Kemp said. “I hope that Jackie would be proud to see the impact we’ve had on these kids.
“Because of what we started last year and what it’s growing into, you can’t see the impact just yet. It’s going to take time to see the work we’ve been doing. But you never know once a person gets to the big leagues when they’ll come back and say, ‘My first bat or my first glove was at the Pull Up Tour and that was how I got the ball rolling.’ I think the best we can do is insert ourselves in those inner cities and just be a light. I’m sure years down the road we’ll hear of a kid who got his first bat or glove at one of these tours.”
There’s also something special for Kemp about getting to play his first Jackie Robinson Day in Oakland, a city with a long history of fighting for racial equality and that has long been at the forefront of the battle against racial injustice.
“Especially being in Oakland, letting younger Black players know that they can make the big leagues just like any of us, it’s a big deal,” Kemp said. “Continuing to pass the game down and be the best person you can be. That’s what matters.”