The significance of Jackie Robinson Day is never lost on Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, who learned about Robinson's contributions to baseball long before he began playing the game himself."Growing up in my house, my dad would always put the books in front of us," Weeks said. "We always read the Negro Leagues books, and I feel like I'm pretty abreast on my baseball history. I grew up on it." That's why Weeks is honored every year to wear Robinson's No. 42. He'll do so again on Sunday, the 65th anniversary of Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier. Weeks has lost track of how many years he's had the honor, "but it's very special. I think people take for granted what Jackie Robinson did. I don't. It was in our house, always." It's also why Weeks was thrilled to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City in 2007. He and then-Brewers teammate Bill Hall led 14 boys and girls on a whirlwind day trip that included a private tour of the museum and a question-and-answer session.
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The exhibits put images to the stories Weeks had read as a youngster."It was good to go see that in person, and actually see some of the people who influenced me and inspired me," Weeks said. Weeks has a very personal tie to the Negro Leagues, because his grandfather, Victor, briefly played for the Newark Eagles in the late 1940s. Now Weeks and his younger brother, Jemile, the Oakland A's starting second baseman, are carrying on the family baseball tradition. They occasionally revisit Victor's own playing days, Rickie said. He hears stories about Robinson, Cool Papa Bell and other greats. Victor Weeks lives in Orlando and has not attended one of Rickie's games since college, but he follows them via audio and remains an engaged armchair manager, Rickie said. "I don't always talk to him, but my dad gives me the reports," Rickie said. "He's a quiet guy until you get him going. Once he gets going, you'd better be ready to talk, because it's hard to get him off the phone. He's a very informed person, just like my dad. He's always got some kind of opinion on a topic." Both his father and grandfather remain serious influences on Rickie. His father, Rickie Sr., has a new initiative this summer. He's bringing a new team, the Orlando Monarchs, into the Florida Collegiate Summer League (FCSL), which, like Wisconsin's Northwoods League and New England's Cape Cod League, offers college prospects the opportunity to gain experience with wood bats. The Monarchs will play at historic Tinker Field in downtown Orlando, and according to Rickie Jr., will have a roster comprised of approximately 75 percent minority players, many from historically black colleges and universities. The FCSL is entering its ninth season. "I played in that league a couple of years," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, sitting at a neighboring locker. "My dad is finally getting that going -- he's excited about it," Rickie Jr. said. "He's been working hard on it." It could cut into Rickie Sr.'s summer travel. He's been a regular at Brewers games during his son's time with the team, and has also checked in with the A's now that Jemile is a regular player. Dad and his sons will have to stay in touch via telephone. "My whole family is tight," the Brewers' Rickie Weeks said. "That's just how I was raised. I really care about them."