Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/9/13
PHOENIX -- Don Baylor was hit by 267 major league pitches, some thrown with malice. But nothing may have stung more than the hit he took one day in junior high in Austin, Texas. Where is the 18th parallel? Baylors teacher asked, a question designed to humiliate.The teacher bopped Baylor on the head with a rolled up paper when he did not know the answer, as if every seventh-grader should recognize the demarcation line between North and South Vietnam.I had to refrain from jumping up and popping him, said Baylor, now the Diamondbacks hitting coach.At that minute, a tough decision was easy.By his life, Jackie Robinson taught Baylor well.As the movie 42 celebrating Robinsons life opens to national audiences Friday and baseball prepares to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Monday, Baylor still takes inspiration from the story of the man who integrated major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and was a hero in many African-American neighborhoods, especially in the South. Absolutely. I know he had some more-than-rough days," Baylor said. "When you are a pioneer, you are going to have those rough days. No doubt about it. Everybody is not going to be with you. But he showed a lot of determination, dignity."We are going to look back years and years from now and say one baseball player changed sports, really. Baylor has spent almost 50 years in baseball, from the day he was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1967 through his time as star player, coach and manager. He was the American League MVP in 1978, won three Silver Slugger awards, has a World Series ring and 338 career home runs, and was the manager of the 1995 Colorado Rockies when they became the first major-league expansion team to reach the playoffs in just their third season.He has seen about all there is to see in baseball, and his life is not so much different.Forget the 18th parallel. Baylor was occupied with other borders in 1961, when he and two childhood friends -- one boy, one girl -- chose to integrate O. Henry Junior High School, which was a mile and a half walk from their Clarksville neighborhood. Their other option was to attend a junior high across town that required a downtown bus transfer and wasted hours in transit -- not much of an option at all. They were the first three black students at O. Henry, and they felt it.That was an eye-opening experience, I tell you, recalled Baylor, 63.You were walking into an all-white school. They teachers were just as tough as maybe the students were. Kids are going to be kids. Kids in the seventh grade are going to call you names. Call you the N word. See how far they could push you. I was going to take on anybodys challenge, so I had to calm down.He managed, overcoming the overtly racist behavior that is so easy now to see for what it is.The O. Henry football coach might not have been prejudiced, but he did not have enough football uniforms for the two new players who entered school that year. Baylors friend got one, Baylor did not. After watching Baylor play intramural flag football, the coach had a spot for Baylor the next year. Smart choice. Baylor proved so adept at the sport that Darrell Royal would later offer his a scholarship and the opportunity to become the first African-American player at the Unviersity of Texas. The administration at Stephen F. Austin High years later might not have been prejudiced, but when the group of cheerleaders known as the Red Jackets escorted the football players to class the Friday before every game, the black players walked by themselves.Baylor understood when he was getting into at O. Henry -- a writer who lived in Austin and is known for plot twists -- but it was not in his blood to shy away. He learned that in Clarksville -- a three-block by two-block patch of gravel streets that was settled by freed slave Charles Clark in 1871 and has gone from throw-away neighborhood to a national historic district, with homes that are valued at much as 600,000. It is the oldest surviving post-Civil War area settled by freed slaves west of the Mississippi. The local Sweet Home Baptist Church is 131 years old.Baylors grandparents never owned or drove a car, and his grandfather lived until he was 80. When Baylor was going to school, he would see his grandfather going to work at the only emergency hospital in Austin, a job he held for 50 years. An uncle worked at Greyhound for 50 years. Some of that must have rubbed off on Baylor, too.That stay-with-it was kind of in my family, not to quit something, Baylor said.I was determined in seventh grade to get through it, do my homework. My dad went through the 11th grade. He would stand over the top of me, make he do my homework. It was a different look how they looked at you going into an all-white school. I survived it and got through it.Baylor grew so proficient at handwriting that he received a certificate.In his junior year at Austin High, he was named captain of the baseball team by the new coach, Frank Seale, who remains a friend. Seale still attends spring training and makes postseason games with Baylor, who adds, He was into helping kids, what coaches are made for.Baylor was a pioneer for his family. His younger brother, Douglas, and other cousins from the Clarksville took the same path, to O. Henry and then Austin High. Baylor made it easier for them all. One day in spring training years ago, Baylor saw Robinson at the Baltimore Orioles complex. A young player, Baylor did not approach him, although as years passed he has become close to Robinsons widow, Rachel, and their daughter, Sharon.His hair was gray then. Thats stress, more than anything, Baylor said.I often think of Jackie, what he endured. I dont know if I could have done that. Throwing a black cat on the field. Calling the names he was called. Sliding into second. Sliding into home. Guys really trying to hurt him. Especially when guys throw at your head. Without retaliation.The legacy that he left is unbelievable. Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter
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