Feb. 1—THOMASVILLE- Excitement was in the air on Wednesday, January 31, as the Jackie Robinson Boys and Girls Club of Cairo celebrated their namesake's 105th birthday and welcomed in rising baseball star Emerson Hancock.
Hancock played high school baseball at Cairo, before going on to play at the University of Georgia. In 2020, he was drafted sixth overall by the Seattle Mariners. He spent most of 2021-2023 with Seattle's double-A affiliate the Arkansas Travelers before a break-out performance in 2023.
On August 9, 2023, Hancock got the call from the Mariners that he would be making his Major League debut against the San Diego Padres.
Hancock did not let his team down, pitching in front of 40,000 fans, and leading the Mariners to a 6-1 win.
With his first season under his belt, Hancock returned home for the off-season to spend time with his wife and interact with the kids of the JRBGC before flying out to spring training on Sunday.
Hancock first connected with the JRBGC approximately three years ago when Director Stephen Francis invited him to speak at one of their benefits. Since then, Hancock has loved keeping up with the happenings at the club and encouraging kids to pursue their dreams.
"Ever since then, we shoot texts to each other and he always asks how the kids are doing," Francis said.
When Francis heard Hancock had returned home for the off-season, he said he was hoping Hancock might be able to make another visit to the club, but was unsure of his schedule.
"He's always been a great example for the kids and even though he had other engagements, he made time for them," Francis said.
While Hancock did not grow up attending the JRBGC, Francis said the club has long known about him.
"We watched him growing up," Francis explained. "He's probably the biggest star in Cairo baseball since Jackie Robinson so it made sense to invite him."
Francis said it also helped kids better understand the impact Robinson had on the game and in Cairo when hearing it from another baseball player.
"A lot of kids are so young they don't remember Jackie Robinson, so we have to really stay engaged and teach them the history and the impact that Jackie Robinson made on the world," Francis said. "We want to show them if they stay the course, they can also impact the world, even if starts just here in our community."
Hancock was able to echo these sentiments when speaking to the club kids, sharing how impressed he was with the knowledge and retention of Jackie Robinson facts.
"I wanted to acknowledge what a special day it is with Jackie Robinson's birthday, so to be able to talk to these kids and let them know the impact he had on our game and in this community with the adversity he faced is hard to put into words, " Hancock said. "The facts they knew about Jackie Robinson and the questions they had were outstanding and they are a really special group of kids."
Upon the conclusion of the celebration of Robinson's birthday, Hancock also shared some advice for the kids.
"Growing up in a small town, everyone has big dreams," he said. "You've gotta work hard for it, but you just can't ever quit. Keep working, keep going as hard as you can. Jackie Robinson was a great example of that."
While Hancock will now fly back out to Seattle, he thanked the JRBGC for the invitation to speak and reunite with the kids, expressing he can't wait to return and talk to them again.