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04/05/07 10:03 PM ET
Notes: Matthews will pay tribute
Center fielder will don Robinson's No. 42 'with great pride'
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- On April 15, in Boston, Gary Matthews Jr. will flip the numbers on the back of his uniform. The Angels' center fielder will become No. 42, joining Ken Griffey Jr. and other Major League players in paying homage to Jackie Robinson, a beacon of social change, on MLB's official Jackie Robinson Day. "It's certainly an honor to wear it," Matthews said. "It's a number that's retired, and no one wears it [except the Yankees' Mariano Rivera]. I'll wear No. 42 with great pride. It represents not only racial equality in the game, but in America. "I think it's great that Ken Griffey Jr. had this idea and pursued it. It's a fitting tribute to a great man." Robinson is known for breaking baseball's color barrier in concert with Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who signed him in 1946 and gave the former UCLA athletic wonder a year of seasoning in Montreal. Universally recognized as one of the greatest all-around athletes in history -- he excelled in football, track and field and basketball as well as baseball -- Robinson took the field for the Dodgers in '47, abruptly changing the game and the country with his character, spirit and talent. "When I think about what he went through to be the first African American to play the game, the things he overcame and accomplished ... it's mind-boggling," Matthews said. "It takes a special kind of person to deal with the kind of adversity he faced. None of us will ever go through anything like that. "I'm glad America recognizes his contributions and his place in our history -- not just in the sport but in society." The Angels will be in Boston on April 15, facing the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Garret Anderson, the senior Angel, deferred to Matthews with respect to wearing No. 42. "It wasn't my idea," Anderson said. "It didn't come to my mind. I'm not the kind to jump on a bandwagon." In praise of fans: Matthews, signed by the Angels over the winter to a five-year, $50 million contract, is off to a blazing start -- much to the satisfaction of Angel Stadium of Anaheim customers giving him rousing standing ovations. "Fans here are great," Matthews said. "I always enjoyed playing here as a visiting player. The fans here create a real good atmosphere -- no matter what side you're playing on. It just makes it better being on their side." In his first three games against Texas, the club he graced as an All-Star last year, Matthews batted .500 with a .615 on-base percentage, scoring four runs. He also made three spectacular catches in center field that directly impacted the first and third games of the sweep by the Angels. One of the best things about his new club, Matthews said, is having fixtures at both corners of the outfield in Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero. "It takes pressure off me knowing we've got guys out there who get after it," Matthews said. "The last few years, I've been playing with different guys. Having Garret and Vladdy out there on a regular basis is going to make it easier on me." "Gary is a difference-maker," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's off to a great start." Hillenbrand sits: Shea Hillenbrand was out of the lineup for the second straight game with groin tightness, the result of running the bases on Tuesday night. "He's better, but he's not going to push it hard," Scioscia said before Thursday night's series opener against Oakland. "He might be available later to pinch-hit." Signed as a free agent in December after a career-high 21 homers with Toronto and San Francisco last season, Hillenbrand is hitting .250 in two games with an RBI and run scored. "I've never done anything in my groin before, so it's all new to me," Hillenbrand said. "It's on the right side. I kind of tweaked it coming around third. I'm doing everything I can to take care of it and get back out there." With Mike Napoli down with a virus, Jose Molina made his second straight start behind the plate Thursday night. Molina dropped a bunt single on Wednesday against Texas in four at-bats. Up next: Right-hander Dustin Moseley makes his season debut Friday night when he faces Oakland southpaw Joe Kennedy at 7:05 PT. Moseley is expected to stay in the rotation until Jered Weaver returns, perhaps as soon as April 16 in Boston.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.