ALBUQUERQUE – He didn’t realize it for a long time, but the number Rev. Dr. Charles Becknell Sr. wore when he played basketball for the Hobbs High School Eagles now has a special connotation.

Becknell’s 42 was the number worn by legendary Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball, and the number retired by MLB in 1997 to honor his legacy.

MLB then adopted the tradition “Jackie Robinson Day” for the first time on April 15, 2004, and now at every game played on April 15, players wear 42 on their backs.

“I didn’t realize the significance of that number at the time,” he said, recalling seeing Robinson playing with the Brooklyn Dodgers on television in the early 1950s.

Earlier this month, the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball club announced plans for its April 18 “Jackie Robinson Celebration,” and added that Becknell, 80, of Rio Rancho, will be honored as the 2023 winner of the second annual “Jackie Robinson Making A Difference Award,” presented to a member of the Albuquerque community that embodies Robinson’s off-the-field legacy.

“This is quite an honor for me,” Becknell said at the ceremony on the third floor at the ballpark on April 10. “I’m humbled by this. This is s special because Jackie Robinson is an example of what one person can do.

“Sometimes, you go out there by yourself. You get ridiculed by general society, you get ridiculed sometimes by the old people,” he said. “It just says what I’ve done in my life. Thank God – I owe it all to him. I hope I’ve made a difference in the lives of people.”

If you don’t know him

Charles Becknell Sr. is a longtime civil rights activist familiar with the story of Black history in New Mexico. He grew up in Hobbs and obtained a basketball scholarship to the University of Albuquerque.

In 1975, he was appointed the cabinet secretary of criminal justice for the state of New Mexico by Gov. Jerry Apodaca.

He became the first director of the Afro-American Studies program at the University of New Mexico, was the state president of the Southern Leadership Conference and taught the first Black history class at Albuquerque High, and formed his own company, Becknell & Associates, Inc., a training and human development company.

If you want to go to the game

On the 18th – the Isotopes were on the road April 15, the traditional day to celebrate Robinson, and idle the 17th — every Isotopes player and coach will wear the retired number 42 in honor of Robinson’s legacy. As part of a pre-game ceremony, a video tracing the history of Black baseball players in New Mexico will be shown on the video board prior to the game. In addition, select students will be recognized for their artwork or essay.

“It’s fitting for April 18, because that is the day Jackie played his first minor league game,” said Josh Suchon, radio play-by-play guy for the Isotopes. “He played for the Montreal Royals, an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers; and it’s also fitting that he played (then) at Roosevelt Stadium in New Jersey — his name was Jackie Roosevelt Robinson and he played at Roosevelt Stadium.

“We want to make sure Jackie’s story is not lost …, we want to make sure all students know what he did that made it so important for America,” Suchon continued, alluding to the student contest.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. at Isotopes Park; the first pitch is scheduled for 6:35 pm.

Tickets are still available, and fans may visit or stop by the Isotopes Park Box Office Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. or Saturday 10–4.

Deadline approaching

This entry was among 20 displayed Monday; the deadline for entries is Friday.

Friday, April 14, is the deadline for K-12 students to submit their project about Robinson’s life. Students can write an essay or poem or submit a piece of artwork. Every student who completes the assignment will be rewarded with four reserved level seats to the April 18 game against the Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Students should bring their submissions to the Isotopes second-floor administrative offices between 5 p.m. Friday. For more information on the student project, visit