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Black players cheer Obama's historic win

Jimmy Rollins is ready and willing to lend a hand to Barack Obama's campaign for president. "He can wear my jersey and take batting practice," the Phillies shortstop said yesterday. "Heck, yeah."

Jimmy Rollins is ready and willing to lend a hand to Barack Obama's campaign for president.

"He can wear my jersey and take batting practice," the Phillies shortstop said yesterday. "Heck, yeah."

A day after Obama secured enough delegates to become the first African American to be a major party's nominee for president, several black Philadelphia athletes reveled in the history of the moment.

"This was something a lot of us won't really understand the significance of this period, probably for some years now," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said yesterday. "To think we had a woman and an African American running for a party, you give me five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, that's absolutely totally unheard of, to have so-called minorities running for that office. This is a huge, huge day and time."

Obama's challenger for the Democratic Party nomination is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). She has not yet conceded the race, but Clinton aides said she would endorse Obama and bring a close to her campaign at an event Saturday in Washington.

Obama, who represents Illinois, will face the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Rollins said Obama has superstar appeal, much like Ronald Reagan, and thinks the American public is ready to elect a black man as president.

"It's just time," Rollins said. "America is so much different than it was in light of everything that has happened. People want something new. This has been going on for so many years and, at this point, it's getting worse, so why not try something new? Maybe Barack can be that answer."

Obama is the lone black in the U.S. Senate and just the fifth in the country's history.

Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson said he has followed the race every day.

"When I was growing up, you wouldn't have dreamed of anything like that," said Thompson, 49. "It just shows you how far we've come."

Eagles linebacker Omar Gaither voted in the North Carolina primary, which Obama won, on May 6. Gaither suggested Obama choose Clinton as his running mate to heal the Democratic Party wounds.

"I think if he and Hillary got together, it'd be like a dream team," Gaither said. "It's kind of funny, because they were bickering, and now it's like, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

The most prominent Eagle, quarterback Donovan McNabb, declined comment when asked about Obama's victory.

Former Penn State football players Michael Robinson, Levi Brown and Justin King all wore T-shirts that said "Obama's Playmakers" during the school's annual Blue-White game in April.

Former NBA and Sixers star Charles Barkley said recently that Obama can unite the country.

"You know, most of our role models are athletes and entertainers," Barkley told CNN in February. "We've got to get more black kids to be educated, carry themselves with great class and dignity."

Obama has shown his affinity for basketball during the campaign run. He played pickup games against the University of North Carolina men's team. His brother-in-law is recently hired Oregon State men's basketball coach Craig Robinson. One of his aides is former Duke football and basketball player Reggie Love, who routinely plays the presidential candidate on the court.

Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas. He grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii.

Rollins thinks Obama's candidacy is a victory for young voters.

"It's like for once - I think maybe this is the youth of America, too - we feel like we have a chance to really make a change," Rollins said. "The guy running for president isn't the guy taking big checks from companies and have their agendas in mind. The people's agendas might actually be addressed. They're going to be forced to be addressed this time around."

Dawkins said he wasn't completely sold on Obama until recently. He doesn't exactly admire the political process and didn't vote because he is registered in Florida.

But that doesn't mean he, as an African American, is overlooking the social significance of Obama's victory.

"I wouldn't be telling you the whole truth if I said it did not [mean more to me]. It did," Dawkins said.

"At the end of the day, I felt like with the views he came across with, I felt like he would be the best person to lead us on out of this mess we're in right now."

And Rollins is holding out hope he can hear Obama speak in person. For now, he'll continue to follow what he knows will be a captivating five months until the general election.

"It should be the most interesting ever, except for maybe the first one," he said with a laugh.