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By The Upper Deck Bum

It is in tradition that society is rooted. Traditions are as varied as those who practice them. They can range from the swearing in of a new President to a father sharing a first catch with his son. One important tradition is to carry on the legacies of those who came before you. For obvious reasons I’ve been reminded over the past few days of the legacy of one man in particular, the one and only Jackie Robinson. And as with many Amazins fans when I reflect on #42 my mind places his memory hand and hand with the heritage of the New York Mets.

My parents were but children themselves when the Dodgers abandoned the Brooklyn faithful in 1957 so I’ve asked friends who were a little older and more baseball conscious what the departure felt like. Indeed the Dodger organization regardless of their current home city did, have and forever will hold the distinction of being the first major league baseball team to sign an African-American athlete. Still, it has been passionately retold to me that when the Dodgers relocated west they left a void. Not only the obvious void of a second baseball team in the big apple but it felt as if the aura of Brooklyn tradition was left dispossessed. That was until the arrival of the New York Metropolitans.

When the Mets took the field at the Polo Grounds in 1962 they filled a four season long void of a National League team in New York left by both the Brooklyn Dodgers as well as the New York Giants. With team colors chosen to pay homage to the two national league teams that came before them and with a “NY” logo nearly identical to that of the team whose former home the Mets would inhabit for the next two seasons the Metropolitans seemed poised to pick up the torch of the legends of old. Then, in 1964 the marvel of the modern age of sporting arenas, the crescent shaped Shea Stadium was completed and at long last the loveable losers had a home of their own. Based on the tales I’ve been told it was when the move across rivers was made that the collective consciousness began to feel that the floating aura of Brooklyn’s greats descended on and fused with the steal and concrete frame of the crescent giving Shea and her baseball team a sense of pride and tradition.

No other player from the Brooklyn Dodgers or from the entirety of baseball’s existence had the lasting influence that Jackie Robinson has. He continued the tradition that times must and always do change and boy did they ever! The undeniable and lasting affects of the abolishment of segregated professional baseball in American has echoed throughout the world. Everywhere you look, especially in this country the ethnic diversity of all professional sports can be seen and felt. With the inclusion of players drafted based on their talents and not discounted due to their race the bar was raised and America’s pastime enriched to a new level of play. This can be directly traced back to one man and one team willing to break with the establishment and create a new tradition of unity.

Many have honored the deeds of Mr. Robinson and the old Brooklyn Dodgers. However, no team in modern day major league baseball, including the LA Dodgers themselves has carried the torch of this great and revolutionary man to the extent that our New York Mets have. Perhaps this was best personified on the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie’s major league debut when the Mets along with President Clinton, Bud Selig and Jackie’s widow Rachel Robinson retired number 42 from all of major league baseball. This unprecedented ceremony was chosen to be held not at the team Jackie played for’s current digs in LA. Nor at Yankee Stadium the home of the only surviving New York team in existence during Jackie’s time. Instead the field of Shea would host this important day in American history.

This event held at the home of the Amazins would serve, in part, to inspire major league baseball to annually observe Jackie Robinson Day. Here players, should they choose, shed their name patches and don Jackie’s #42. Although the day is named in honor of Jackie, the meaning behind this observation is about more than the man. It serves as a reminder to us of how far we’ve come as a society. Of course there is much progress to be made throughout the globe but tradition dictates that we continue forward while acknowledging and honoring our past. Shea may now be gone but in two short months there will be a permanent memorial in honor of #42.

If you’ve read my previous blogs you know I usually refer to Citi Field as Jackie Robinson Field. To me that’s what our new home should’ve been christened but I know money rules the world and so naming rights went to Citigroup. But, and it’s a rare occasion when I do this, I give both the Wilpon’s and Citigroup credit. The grand and gorgeous entrance into Citi Field will be the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Marble and stone. Glass and steel. Old and new. This magnificent gateway will both honor the man as well as educate all who cross through its threshold about not only the athlete but the civil rights humanitarian. Finally, the Mets and Citigroup are working closely with The Jackie Robinson Foundation to create a museum named in honor of Mr. Robinson in lower Manhattan.

For 47 years our New York Metropolitans have enriched the lives of their fans through memories, traditions and a pride all their own while also carrying the torch of Brooklyn’s past. We look at the names on our roster and see possibly the most diverse team in today’s game. Some say that regardless of Jackie Robinson’s presence baseball would’ve inevitably come to the harmonious place it’s at today and perhaps that’s true but Jackie was history’s emissary. He was chosen because he was the kind of human who could bridge the ignorant past with the hopeful future silencing those not as enlightened. The on field talents and overall class with which Jackie carried himself weren’t exclusive to him. Countless ball players throughout history have been men of the highest caliber. The difference is that none of them faced quite the level of challenges Jackie did. No matter what was thrown his way he personified dignity as does the team I am proud to root for as our Amazin’ Mets continue the tradition building a better future both on and off the field.


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