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Robinson Rotunda unveiled by Mets

Robinson Rotunda unveiled by Mets

NEW YORK -- Rachel Robinson took her first look at the high vaulted ceiling and circular architecture of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda at Citi Field on Tuesday and said "it was like walking into a cathedral."

Albeit a cathedral with no windows yet and a muddy floor.

"I don't know if I can compare this," she said, "but in a way it's like St. Peter's in Rome."

On the 61st anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson shattered Major League Baseball's color line, the new ballpark just beyond Shea Stadium's outfield fence is certainly taking shape.

Its opening is less than 12 months away and in the mind's eye, one can envision crowds filing through the Rotunda, which is a red-brick homage to the entrance of old Ebbets Field, where Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

With the same archways as the old edifice framing the windows throughout, it is, of course, much larger in size and scope than its predecessor.

"About two to three times bigger," said Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer and son of Fred Wilpon, their chairman and chief executive.

Fred Wilpon, a Brooklyn native who was a friend of Robinson's, defined the Rotunda as a just way of memorializing the Hall of Famer who long ago ascended his stature as simply a link to New York's baseball playing past, when two National League teams -- the Dodgers and Giants -- split the loyalty of local fans.

"I dreamed about this," the elder Wilpon said. "And this is exactly how I dreamed about it. I call this home."

At a media conference prior to the tour, the Mets offered an animated 3-D video of what the Rotunda will ultimately look like, replete with escalators in the middle to the club and luxury box levels and stairways sweeping upward on each side. Near the rear will be a blue sculpture of Robinson's No. 42, retired throughout baseball forever in 1997 by Commissioner Bud Selig on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut.

Fred Wilpon said that the architects drew from parts of the old Ebbets Field rotunda and made significant alterations. But the flooring will be made of the same material.

"I did some research," he said. "I ran into my old friend Sandy Koufax and asked him, 'Sandy, do you know what the floor was in the old rotunda?' He said, "Dirty!' At that dinner, Ralph Branca was there. And immediately he said, 'Terrazzo.' So when he said Terrazzo that cemented it in for us. It's Terrazzo."

Terrazzo is a faux-marble flooring material created by Venetian construction workers as a lower-cost, but highly durable, alternative to the real thing.

In the new Rotunda, the Terrazzo flooring will be engraved with Robinson's name, each of the nine values penned by his daughter Sharon on how her father lived a productive and well-meaning life, and Robinson's words that are so often quoted as the mission statement for the foundation that bears his name:

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

Robinson's widow, Rachel, dressed in a bright yellow blazer and looking nowhere near her age of nearly 86 years, said she was blown away by the entire concept: the connection to the past and the legacy of the Robinson name as "we head into the future."

"What the Rotunda means to me is the progress we've made in the past and how that's going to effect future generations," she said. "When fans and families and children walk through that Rotunda I hope they will reflect on not only what Jackie Robinson accomplished, but also think about themselves and think, 'What am I doing? How am I living my life? What am I doing in my community?'

"This Rotunda is not just a place, it's a stimulus. It's a place where I hope people will feel inspired. I hope they linger. I hope they linger in there and look around. Come early to the games and talk about the history, which we don't get enough time or opportunity to do. Fred called it home. I'll accept it as home, too."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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