Harris thinks of Robinson on big day
Nats outfielder hoping Obama will throw first pitch on April 13
WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Willie Harris is from Cairo, Ga., the same town where baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson was born. During the past two days, Robinson was on Harris' mind, for good reason.
On Monday, Harris represented Robinson during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Cairo. Tuesday was even more special. Harris was thinking about Robinson as he watched Barack Obama become the first African-American to be sworn in as president of the United States.
Harris said Robinson's sacrifices as Major League Baseball's first black player are some of the reasons Obama reached the nation's highest office.
"There was no doubt I was thinking about Jackie during the inauguration. It's like another color barrier being broken," Harris said via telephone. "We had our Martin Luther King parade in our small town on Monday, and I represented Jackie Robinson. We, as African-Americans, have a lot to be proud of right now."
Harris said he doesn't know if Obama will be as successful in the White House as Robinson was on the baseball diamond. If fact, Harris doesn't expect the world to get better overnight.
"I don't want to say I'm expecting a lot from Barack Obama, but I don't think he can do any worse than anyone else has done. We must have a lot of prayers for him," Harris said. "My pastor said, 'Don't think you can go out and do whatever you want to do because we have an African-American president, and don't expect the world to change in six months.'"
Harris was amazed by how many people stood in the cold in Washington to watch Obama get sworn in. An estimated 2 million people watched in person. Harris decided to watch the inauguration with his family in Georgia.
"I wish I could have been there, but it's too cold for me up there," Harris said. "I was just happy for our country and Barack."
He is aware that Obama is a fan of the White Sox, but Harris, a member of the team when it won the World Series in 2005, wants Obama to throw the first pitch on April 13, when the Nationals play their first home game of the season against the Phillies at Nationals Park.
In fact, Harris indicated that his family already bought plane tickets to go to Washington that week in order to see Obama. The Nationals have not made an announcement on who will throw the first pitch that day.
"My family and I already talked about it, and they booked their tickets. They are going to be at the first home game in D.C., and they are coming just for that reason," Harris said. "I'm looking forward to that, too. I hope he comes. I know he has a lot going on. Maybe he can squeeze in an hour or two and come out there and throw the first pitch for us, even though he is a White Sox fan."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.