April 16, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
In our latest installment of “Touching Base,” we go one-on-one with Xavier’s Andre Jernigan. The redshirt freshman, who leads the Musketeers with 25 RBI, was a member of the National Honor Society and was a Presidential Scholarship recipient at Homestead High School before arriving at Xavier. He fills us in on what Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball means to him as an African-American player, the day he learned the history behind the Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodger, his opinions on why there are falling numbers in Major League Baseball among African Americans and how his father’s early baseball teachings most likely led to an argument with his mom.
BIGEAST.com: Every year on April 15, Major League Baseball holds its’ annual Jackie Robinson Day celebration. What does that mean to you?
JERNIGAN: “I think it’s a wonderful thing. I know in the school system you don’t really learn much about Jackie Robinson like you learn about Civil Rights. But I think kids and people everywhere always learn more about what’s happening every day.”
BIGEAST.com: How did you learn about Robinson and his impact on the game?
JERNIGAN: “It was when I was growing up and I was with my father and we were watching a game (on Jackie Robinson Day) and everyone was wearing the No. 42. That’s when I learned that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and that Major League Baseball does this every year to commemorate what he did. Basically he changed baseball forever.”
BIGEAST.com: So your dad schooled you on the subject?
JERNIGAN: “Right, exactly. But after that I went to the library and found books to try to read up on him and learn even more about him.”
BIGEAST.com: What he went through was pretty incredible when you think about it. But a recent study shows that African-Americans now make up just 8.3% of Major League Baseball players. Are you surprised by that statistic?
“To a certain extent I’m not really surprised only due to the popularity of basketball and football. As far as the numbers going down, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the popularity of LeBron James and (Houston Texans wide receiver) Andre Johnson and the NFL. But I am a bit surprised by the numbers.”
BIGEAST.com: You grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind. Were there a lot of places to play baseball and is that a contributing factor for kids who grow up in inner cities, a lack of space for ball fields?
JERNIGAN: “I think in the inner cities that’s probably a huge thing as far as room for baseball games and things like that. I grew up in Fort Wayne and baseball is a pretty big thing there. We had a lot of good players there. Jarrod Parker of the Oakland Athletics played there so in Fort Wayne baseball a huge thing. But in an inner city, a place like Chicago, I know there is not a lot of room to play baseball. A lot of kids just play basketball because it’s easier to get gear for that and it’s much less expensive so that might have a lot to do with it, too.”
BIGEAST.com: Did you get to see the movie “42?”
JERNIGAN: “I actually did, I got to see it last summer.”
BIGEAST.com: What did you think of it? Did you learn anything about Robinson from the movie that you didn’t know before?
JERNIGAN: “Maybe as far as the actual details as to what was happening at the time, I think it did a good job on that. I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. The only (negative) thing I’d say about it is that the story, such as it is, can’t exactly be placed in a three-hour frame. Some things had to be left out. But as far as what they were trying to accomplish, I thought they did a rather good job of covering the story.”
BIGEAST.com: You dad, Frankie, played baseball at Nebraska. Did he instill your love of baseball?
JERNIGAN: “Definitely, he always preached to me and my younger brother that we should keep playing baseball. He said I know there are opportunities in basketball and football but there are definitely more opportunities for college scholarships in baseball. Just from the number of players there are on baseball teams. But he started us out at a pretty young age. He told me he started to teach us to throw with our (baby) bottles when we were really young. He said my mom (Stacey) was not a big fan of that. But I’d say through him I learned to love the game and then as I got older it grew on me even more.”
BIGEAST.com: Is a career playing baseball your dream?
JERNIGAN: “Growing up I definitely thought about it. Of course being a kid you want to grow up and be a baseball player and you watch players like Derek Jeter. But of course being here at Xavier my idea is education first. Then if the opportunity presents itself to play baseball at the next level then you can go ahead and pursue that. It’s a goal of mine, it would be a dream of mine to go ahead and do that but as of right now it’s academics first. Then if the time comes or the opportunity presents itself, I’d go ahead and think about that.”
BIGEAST.com: How about Xavier? You just swept Villanova this past weekend and are now 6-0 in your first season in the BIG EAST. Are you guys the real deal?
JERNIGAN: “I believe we are. We have a really good offense. We’re able to produce a lot of runs, we get base runners on, find ways to move them over and get them in. But a lot of it starts with our pitchers on the mound. Adam Hall, Scott Klever, Vinny Nittoli, they all give us great starts. They throw strikes, put the ball in play and we make the plays for them. On the flip side our offense will take care of them by scoring runs for them. It all adds up in the end.”