How Jackie Robinson Saved My Life

I grew up in a verbally abusive home. My father’s violent tirades were like heart-seeking missiles. And if my father, someone who was obligated to love me, couldn’t love me—if he couldn’t find anything special in me, I reasoned I must be defective.

I needed a place to escape, and I found it in baseball. I tell people baseball was my first love, and I mean it. From age six I was watching games on TV, memorizing statistics on the backs of baseball cards, playing out imaginary games with my glove and a tennis ball in the backyard—all of this helped me escape my father.

And in baseball I discovered another guy who lived where violent words came rushing at him. But he didn’t go to baseball to escape the abuse, he went there to receive it.

Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 into a family of sharecroppers in Georgia. Jackie’s father abandoned the family when Jackie was a year old. Young Robinson grew up in poverty, but with great athletic ability. He eventually became the first athlete at UCLA to win varsity letters in four sports.

JackieIn 1945 Jackie Robinson accepted an offer to play baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League. Little did he know Branch Rickey, the president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was scouting the Negro leagues for a player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

Rickey chose Robinson and called him in for a meeting that would last three hours. Rickey explained to Robinson he would be attacked by racists if he joined the Dodgers, but Robinson could not fight back. If he did retaliate, racist rage would explode. “Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Robinson asked. Rickey told him no, he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.”

Robinson agreed.

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers and became the first African American athlete in professional sports. Then came the hailstorm. Racial taunts and slurs, death threats, character assassination, physical attacks on the field. It was worse than Branch Rickey had promised or Robinson expected. But Robinson knew the defect wasn’t in him but in those who attacked him, and somehow he rose above it.

As a boy I read about Jackie Robinson in my bedroom, hiding from my father who watched TV in the next room. I was captivated. Empowered. Jackie Robinson opened a whole new way of life for me. My room soon became filled with posters and baseball cards of Jackie Robinson. Over the years this culminated in a personalized license plate I happily pay extra for to this day: “42.” It’s my way of honoring a man who lived so courageously.

Jackie Robinson taught me I didn’t have to live a “normal” life. I could defy the odds. I could do something with myself despite all the pain and mess of my childhood. He gave me courage.

I found out that as a young man Jackie Robinson himself was inspired by someone, and that someone was Jesus. Robinson grew up in a Christian home and was later mentored by a minister named Karl Everitt Downs. Though not perfect, Jackie did his best to follow in the footsteps of a man who knew a lot about rising above. Many people don’t know Robinson invested the last years of his life as a supporter and speaker for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also started an organization called The Church Fund, which raised money to rebuild African American churches that had been burned down because of their role in the Civil Rights movement.

Branch Rickey was also influenced by Jesus. During their three-hour meeting in which Rickey told Robinson he couldn’t fight back, the two spoke of Jesus’ teachings about loving enemies and turning the other cheek. These teachings became the centerpiece of their strategy. A Jesus-inspired strategy that led Robinson to become not only the first black player in the Majors but also a national hero we’re still making blockbuster movies about today. Jackie Robinson was an ordinary man, but the impact Jesus had on him made him extraordinary.

I think that’s what we’re all looking for. A way to break out of ordinary, to overcome the mundane and expected, to live our lives at a higher level. We all desire that, but to experience it we need help.

That’s why I wrote Renegade: Your Faith Isn’t Meant To Be Safe. It’s a book about this kind of life – the kind of life Jesus and Jackie Robinson inspire me to live. Today I’m a pastor near the Las Vegas strip, which is definitely out of the ordinary. I’m not sure I live at a higher level everyday, but I am trying.

My hope is that Renegade will help people connect with Jesus in a way that moves them toward extraordinary lives. I’m so eager to see this happen, I teamed up with my publisher to sell the ebook version for 99 cents from April 12-19 in honor of Jackie Robinson, who is celebrated in the newly released movie 42.

People think I’m crazy. They point out I won’t make any money from a book that’s selling for 99 cents. But money isn’t the point. The courageous, renegade life is, and I guess this is just one more example of how Jackie Robinson has helped me rise above.

I hope you’ll pick it up, and if you do I’d love to hear what you think. You can email me here.


  1. Chad R. Allen on April 12, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Love this post, Vince!

  2. Mark Wayne on April 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Love it Vince!! Bless you buddy!

    Mark Wayne

  3. Iheanyichukwu Ikeri Iruloh. on April 13, 2013 at 1:57 am

    What an interesting story!!! It takes a brave and loving heart to chose to suffer to make a positive change. Would definitely see the movie.

    • Vince Antonucci on April 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      I saw the movie yesterday. It’s good and very uplifting. They didn’t portray the full extent of the suffering Jackie Robinson had to endure, but I guess that might have made the movie too difficult and depressing for a lot of viewers. I think it’s definitely worth seeing!

  4. Allen Hamon on April 13, 2013 at 8:03 am

    I am hungry for this read… Thank you for your testimony brother. Any one who loves baseball. …. Loves Jackie Robinson. Anyone who loves Jesus, is drawn to others who put him first. Baseball and Jesus.?. No wonder he was a winner!

    • Vince Antonucci on April 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Thanks Allen. I agree that baseball and Jesus are two of the best things in the world!

  5. debbie paulino on April 13, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Tremendous. Gods love and purposes fulfilled bringing His glory of the Son for the world to behold again and again through ordinary men.

  6. Reid H Thorburn on April 13, 2013 at 8:38 am

    When I was a child I was fortunate enough to live in the same neighborhood with the Robinsons. Jackie junior was my best friend when I was six, seven and eight years old. I have wonderful memories of playing at their house and having fun and feeling loved and respected. My mother tells the story that even f we ‘d been playing in the mud Mrs. Robinson would always send us home with our clothes washed clean an ironed. My mom and Mr Robinson were contemporaries at UCLA and she remembered him as an outstanding football player. Although Mr Robinson wasn’t around a lot, I do remember eating ice cream with him in their basement playroom and I remember watching him from time to time 3 3 lob wedge is iý his front

  7. Reid H Thorburn on April 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Sorry about that.
    My overall memories of this famous man was that he was fun to be with and he was gentle and soft spoken.
    They were a terrific family and I count myself fortunate to have been there neighbor and to have called them friends.
    Thanks for your post. Stay blessed.

    • Vince Antonucci on April 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Wow Reid. What a cool thing that you were able to know the Robinsons! I’m jealous. It was very cool to hear some of your memories. Thank you so much for sharing them!

  8. PASTOR GAIL A GARRETT on April 13, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Love this amazing story like so few others this generation needs to relate to the ONE who can change your life forever… therefore ONE you can start to change your own world… my prayer to start and finsh like Jesus wants us too… thanks for the book blessing

    • Vince Antonucci on April 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks Pastor Gail. You and I share the same prayer!

  9. katdish on April 15, 2013 at 6:50 am

    Just downloaded the kindle version. Looking forward to reading it. Hope you are doing well.

  10. Kristi Singer on April 16, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I like the idea that “the defect was not in him, but in those who attacked him”. That’s something those of us who live/have lived with any kind of abuse should try to remember. As you mentioned, as children it’s easy to feel that we are the ones who are defective, when really the abuse that’s being hurled upon us is coming from individuals who are quite defective. Or maybe they felt the same way as children, and the cycle is continuing.
    Anyway, thank you for this uplifting post. I’m looking forward to reading your book, and also seeing the movie.

  11. Vince Antonucci on April 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks Kristi – good thoughts!