Robinson Rotunda dedicated at Citi Field

Updated: April 16, 2009, 12:45 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Introduced to a standing ovation, Rachel Robinson stepped to the podium at Citi Field and smiled as she gazed around the regal new rotunda that bears her husband's name.

Majestic, black and white photos adorn the brick and tile walls -- Jackie Robinson with his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, and pioneering general manager Branch Rickey. Robinson leaping high in a UCLA track uniform, walking tall in a cap and gown, kneeling with children as they show him their art work.

High above the ballpark entrance, an inscription of his famous quote: "A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives." At the other end of the room, an 8-foot, blue sculpture of his No. 42.

Grainy highlights of Robinson's life and career run continuously on two large video screens. One of the engravings on the terrazzo floor: Jack Roosevelt Robinson. 1919-1972. Trailblazer. Humanitarian. American.

"I'm speechless," Rachel Robinson said. "Jack was actually a very humble man. Some of you who are baseball fans wouldn't believe that because you only saw him on the field arguing with umpires and trying to beat the other guys. But he was a very humble man. I think he would have been stunned by being acknowledged in this way and remembered in this way. It's so grand and so beautiful. And the rotunda is not just a physical space but it carries with it so many memories and so many messages."

On the 62nd anniversary of the day he broke baseball's color barrier -- and changed America in so many ways -- Robinson was honored Wednesday all around the majors with the sport's annual Jackie Robinson Day.

For the first time, however, all players, managers, coaches and umpires wore No. 42, retired for every big league team in a 1997 ceremony at the New York Mets' old ballpark, Shea Stadium.

The team's new place, $800 million Citi Field, features the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a stately entrance behind home plate for fans to file through.

It was inspired by Ebbets Field, where Mets owner Fred Wilpon went to Brooklyn Dodgers games as a boy. He and Rachel Robinson worked together to help design the rotunda, with its 70-foot archways and 160-foot diameter floor an homage to the 27-foot-high, 80-foot wide Ebbets entryway.

"I want you to know that all those photographs are done in tile, so this thing is not an exhibit. This is here to stay!" Rachel Robinson said proudly. "And I love the permanence of it. Not many things are permanent in life around now.

"It's a great thrill," she added. "And it's also a little bit painful because of all the old memories kind of flowing back into me when I look at the pictures of our family at certain stages, or Jack's career at certain stages. I feel very emotional about it, but very positive."

Among those on hand Wednesday for the dedication ceremony were Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Joe Morgan, MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, filmmaker Spike Lee, New York Gov. David Paterson and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Jackie Robinson Foundation scholars read aloud his nine values, articulated in a book written by his daughter, Sharon, and now etched around the rotunda: courage, excellence, persistence, justice, teamwork, commitment, citizenship, determination, integrity.

"I think it's fabulous," said Morgan, on the board of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. "For me, this is really special because I think there was a lull there from people who forgot or didn't know what Jackie Robinson had done. Now, everybody is being put back on board or being brought back. The young kids are being told who Jackie Robinson was and what he did for our country. And I think that's what's great."

In his opening remarks, Mets executive vice president David Howard referred to Rachel Robinson as "American royalty." Classy and elegant as ever at 86, she was joined at Citi Field by daughter Sharon and son David.

"This is a great day for us," Rachel Robinson said. "There's been talk about the challenges that faced us and things we've been through. I want you to know that on this day, I feel blessed. I don't feel like I'm a victim of anything or that I couldn't manage. I feel strengthened by the life that we led."

The Robinson family also attended Jackie Robinson Day ceremonies before the Mets' game Wednesday night against San Diego, their second at Citi Field. Rachel Robinson was escorted onto the field by New York manager Jerry Manuel.

As part of baseball's annual tribute, several players planned to wear special Nike cleats that featured an image of Robinson sliding into home plate as well as his No. 42 stitched on each heel.

Ken Griffey Jr., Jimmy Rollins, Torii Hunter, Carl Crawford and David Wright were among the stars set to wear the unique shoes.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press