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Candini was part of the Jackie Robinson story

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Candini was part of the Jackie Robinson story

Manteca’s Milo Candini pitched to Jackie Robinson, Candini Drive by the Big League Dreams sports complex is named after Manteca’s first Major League Baseball player who has since passed away.

Photo contributed/

POSTED April 13, 2013 2:39 a.m.

It was the summer of 1951.

Sugar Ray Robinson was the middleweight champion of the world, Ben Hogan was victorious at the Masters and the U.S. Open, and Mickey Mantle made his debut in centerfield for the New York Yankees.

And in Brooklyn, a journeyman pitcher from a small town in Northern California that nobody from Flatbush – or his teammates from “The City of Brotherly Love” for that matter – had ever heard of sat in the bullpen and watched as some of the best players in the game put on an offensive display.

Duke Snider. Pee Wee Reece. Roy Campanella. Gil Hodges.

By the top of the third inning the Dodgers had already knocked out Philadelphia’s starting pitcher and it was only a matter of time before they chewed up the bullpen to get to one Milo Candini – a 33-year-old from California’s Central Valley town of Manteca that finished the previous year with an ERA of 2.70 in 30 innings of relief.

When Snider homered in the top of the fourth, he got the call. The chance to be the cooler. To show “Dem Bums” what he was made of.

But even with a clean set of bases, Candini was going to have his work cut out for him with the man stepping into the batter’s box.

Jackie Robinson.

The world knows him as the first African-American to crack the all-white fraternity of major league baseball.

His story, and the trials and tribulations that he faced coming up as a ballplayer in the American South in the 1940’s, is one of those things that gets passed down from father-to-son like the other great stories of America’s pastime – the legend of Babe Ruth and the greatness of Willie Mays and the tenacity of Pete Rose.

But things get missed. Parts get left out. The legend becomes bigger than the truth.

Thankfully we now have “42” – the newest biopic about Robinson’s life and the story of coming up in the Brooklyn Dodger organization and putting on the uniform that would make him both instantly beloved and hated – to put just some of what he experienced and what he ultimately triumphed over into perspective.

Baseball is a game of codes. A game of rules. Some are written, some unspoken and others merely whispered about in clubhouses and around batting cages and pitchers mounds. As fans we get to see some of these rules played out – like when Stockton native Dallas Braden berated Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez for stepping on the pitching mound on his way back to first base following a foul ball.

Robinson’s arrival in Brooklyn, however, decimated those rules. It literally upended the very way of life of many that he played against – and even some that he played with. Jim Crow might have been new to him as a UCLA transplant, but it was very much standard fare in places like Missouri and Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The movie paints this picture perfectly. Parts of it can be painful to watch at times, like when Phillies manager Ben Chapman ridicules Robinson mercilessly in his trips to the plate.

But it also shows those that stood with him.

The scene where Pee Wee Reece, in what amounted to a hometown game for him in the racially-segregated town of Cincinnati, trotted over to Robinson in front of the crowd and put his arm around him to silence the jeers, was not only historically accurate but a great chance to see the legendary friendship played out somewhere other than on paper (it’s too bad the movie doesn’t play this narrative up more.)

Ralph Branca – the Dodgers pitcher that served up the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to Giants slugger Bobby Thompson in 1951 – stood firmly in Robinson’s corner from the beginning.

Getting to see those relationships played out is what makes the movie great.

You can literally hear the barriers getting shattered.

But while baseball is a game of rules and codes, it’s a game of recorded statistics.

By the time that Robinson stepped up to the plate to face Candini, he had already been named the Rookie of the Year, led the National League in batting average and stolen bases, taken the National League MVP title and twice been selected as an all-star.

He would reach base, but on an error – not charged to Candini.

Not bad for a journeyman pitcher in the twilight of his major league career facing one of the game’s greatest.

To this day Robinson’s jersey number is the only one retired throughout all of baseball. I’m not even sure what Candini’s jersey number was. But there’s greatness in knowing that a local hero showed down with a national icon – somebody that changed the landscape forever.

That’s something that I’d pay $10.25 to see.

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