Mets honor Robinson in ceremony

Mets honor Robinson in ceremony

NEW YORK -- A little rain couldn't spoil Jackie Robinson Day. It's just the type of adversity Robinson would have loved.

And, fittingly, it only made things better.

The Mets finally got their chance to honor Robinson on Friday, after their portion of last Sunday's league-wide celebration was washed away for two straight games. In front of a swelled Shea Stadium crowd -- now sixty years and five days after Robinson broke baseball's color line just a dozen miles away -- all that pent-up pomp was finally unleashed. And it was worth the wait.

Able to attend the celebration thanks to its five-day delay were Robinson's wife, Rachel, and her son, David -- two of the closest links the game has left to a man who changed the face of baseball forever.

"What we're looking for is not just to celebrate the past and the advancing of the past, but to think of where we are now and where we're headed," Rachel Robinson said. "To see another generation wearing his number and paying tribute to him in that way was very gratifying."

Rachel and David Robinson headlined a pregame celebration that included performances from two choirs, a video presentation, and appearances from several former Negro Leagues players.

Mets manager Willie Randolph also played his part, donning Robinson's retired No. 42 in the same fashion that scores of players did on Sunday. But for Randolph, the connection hit a bit closer to home.

"Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jackie was my total inspiration," Randolph said. "To be able to wear this uniform No. 42 is an honor, and it's something I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life."

Randolph, a close friend of the entire Robinson family, helped escort the 84-year-old Rachel Robinson onto the field during the ceremonies.

"Willie Randolph is part of Jack's legacy," Rachel Robinson said. "I feel that Willie's been wonderful as a manager and as a man, and has represented baseball and our culture in great ways. So to see him wearing Jack's number is a thrill for me."

Much of the ceremony was made possible, ironically, by the same rains that seemingly spoiled the celebration five days earlier. Rachel Robinson was in Los Angeles at the time, honoring her late husband with the franchise that took a historic risk on him 60 years before. But the postponement allowed her to also celebrate at Shea, the closest stadium to Robinson's old Ebbets Field home.

"I never expected that to happen," Rachel Robinson said. "I was torn between the two places, because both teams have been very good to us at the foundation. My heart, and my fanship, is with both of them."

Introduced in 2004, Jackie Robinson Day was created to honor the enduring impact of Jackie Robinson and his legacy as the first African-American player to break the Major League color barrier. Robinson played his first Major League game at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League color barrier in 1997, Robinson's uniform No. 42 was retired throughout the Major Leagues.

Robinson's memory lives on today in initiatives such as the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which was founded by Rachel Robinson in 1973 to provide education and leadership development opportunities for minority students with strong capabilities but limited financial resources, as well as Breaking Barriers, which utilizes baseball-themed activities to reinforce literacy skills, mathematics, science and social history while addressing critical issues of character development such as conflict resolution and self-esteem.

Of course, even now the Robinson family is not satisfied. Ten years ago, according to Rachel Robinson, over a quarter of Major Leaguers were black. Now, the figure hovers around eight percent.

"He would have just said we need to fight harder," Robinson said of her late husband. "We need to find what the factors are that are causing this decrease and do something about it. He was a person of action and he didn't want to be seen as being complacent. I think he would have gone to work."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.