Robinson, Reese now together forever
Statue of former Brooklyn Dodgers teammates is unveiled
NEW YORK -- Just outside the front gate of KeySpan Park, home to the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, a crowd of 300 people shuffled forward in anticipation, trying to better position themselves for the impending unveiling.
A countdown began from 10 and upon completion, a cloth was whipped away to cheers of Heyyyyyy! With that sharp tug, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg revealed the Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument, which captures the watershed moment in May 1947 when Reese threw his arm around his new Brooklyn Dodgers teammate on the field in Cincinnati in a show of support for Major League Baseball's first African-American player.
"It's a historic symbol of a wonderful legacy of friendship, of teamwork, of courage -- of a lot of things we hope we will be able to pass on to young people," Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, said at the unveiling on Tuesday. "And we hope they will be motivated by it, be inspired by it and think about what it would be like to stand up, dare to challenge the status quo and find a friend there who will come over and support you."
The statue was more than five years in the making, dating back to the administration of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. While the project understandably languished in the aftermath of 9/11, Bloomberg resurrected it and made it happen through private donations via the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.
Bloomberg served as emcee and led off the speaking slate, before being followed by Rachel Robinson. Robinson said that Reese's gesture was proof that no one who stands up stands alone. Other speakers included Della Britton Baeza, the president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation; Dorothy and Mark Reese, the widow and son of Pee Wee Reese; and Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president. Also in attendance were Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, Mets general manager Omar Minaya, former Brooklyn Dodgers World Series hero Johnny Podres and Brooklyn native and former Met John Franco, among others. (The Cyclones are the Class A affiliate of the Mets.)
All of the speeches lauded the statue's potential to inspire and educate younger generations. Many referred to last week's passing of Rosa Parks, the matriarch of the Civil Rights movement who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Ala.
Mark Reese's impassioned speech utilized Parks' statement that she challenged segregation because "she had endured too much for too long." He said Robinson was someone who endured too much for too long every time he stepped foot on the field, as a symbol and an athlete, which is where his father stepped in -- to help a struggling rookie ballplayer.
Mark Reese continued to tell of how his father dealt with friends, teammates and family members who were opposed to him playing with an African-American, and how easy it would have been to go with the crowd. He closed by speaking about the importance of Rachel Robinson's role in Jackie's story.
One part of that story is now memorialized at the entrance to the stadium that hosts a squadron of aspiring Mets every summer.
"Brooklyn baseball stands for so many things, so many myths, so many feelings and emotions," said Dave Campanaro, the Cyclones' media relations manager. "And we have tried to capture a small part of that, never [looking to] replace the Dodgers -- we never could and we'd never try to -- but I think that it's building a bridge from us to the glory days of the Brooklyn Dodgers," who left for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
"This is the best way to do it," he added. "Take the two most recognizable, influential faces from that team and incorporate them into the next generation of Brooklyn baseball. It's just a perfect spot for them."
The event drew myriad fans, among them Leonard Flug of Brooklyn, who claims he was a Dodgers fan, "though he knows he doesn't look old enough."
"I thought it was a great idea," he said. "It was long overdue to have something to commemorate the Brooklyn Dodgers."
With both men cast permanently into bronze, color will remain forever irrelevant for the duo, just as it did in life.
"It's a great legacy and the statue completes it," Dorothy Reese said. "I just wish they were here."
Ben Couch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.