Erin Walker, 14, an eighth grader from West Bloomfield, Mich., and Ethan Rose, 10, a fourth grader from Canton, Mich., were visited by Robinson in their schools on Wednesday, and then honored in a pregame ceremony at Comerica Park for winning the Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life Essay Contest.
Robinson first went to West Hills Middle School early Wednesday to talk to students about her father's story and how it relates to Walker's essay. She then did the same at Field Elementary school later that afternoon with Rose.
"Everyone loved her visit," Walker said. "It was like, life-changing, really."
Breaking Barriers is a program developed by Major League Baseball, Robinson and Scholastic. It recognizes students for using the values exemplified by Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Now in its 16th year, the program was designed to provide students grades four through nine with strategies to deal with challenges in their everyday lives.
Rose and Walker have both clearly demonstrated the ability to fight and overcome those daily challenges, which made their essays stand out among 6,000 entries.
"Erin wrote about self-esteem," Sharon Robinson said. "Her self-esteem was low, and she recognized it and started working on herself. She started believing in herself, and used different ways to get to that more positive level.
"And Ethan wrote the most incredible essay because he detailed how he got his school to bring football back to his school, and I just so loved it. I couldn't wait to meet him."
Along with her appearance, Sharon Robinson brought a surprise to Walker and Rose. Although the winners usually receive laptops from Microsoft, they didn't arrive on time. Therefore, they received a bonus gift of an iPad.
"I was speechless," Walker said. "I was standing up there like 'Wow. Thank you.'"
Meeting Sharon Robinson, getting an iPad, eventually a laptop and standing on the field prior to first pitch of the Tigers-Mariners game. For Rose, who said he aspires to pitch for the Tigers some day, it was one of the best moments of his life.
"The experience has been -- I don't know what it is, but it's been awesome," he said.
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.