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04/15/09 1:00 PM ET

Citi Rotunda perfect for Robinson Day

Entrance to Mets' new stadium a hub for celebration

NEW YORK -- For three years now, Major League Baseball's players have honored one of the game's foremost social leaders by wearing No. 42, Jackie Robinson's uniform number, on April 15, the day that baseball has dedicated in his name. It began with a few players, then picked up steam, until this year Commissioner Bud Selig announced that every player in the game will wear Robinson's old number.

It is a fitting tribute, and one in which baseball takes pride. But until this year, the game has not had an equally apt setting. Two years ago, the main celebration came at Dodger Stadium, in front of Robinson's old team. But Robinson, a Brooklyn Dodger his entire career, retired before the club moved to its current location on the West Coast.

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Last year, his widow, Rachel Robinson, and friends traveled to Shea Stadium, the park closest to Robinson's old home at Ebbets Field. The blue in the Mets' uniforms is taken from the Dodgers, just as the orange is taken from the Giants, another former tenant in New York City.

But this season, the Mets have moved into a new ballpark, Citi Field, and dedicated the main entranceway -- the Jackie Robinson Rotunda -- to the man who changed baseball forever in 1947. There are sweeping stairways and impressive chandeliers, lighting a series of inscriptions and images that relate Robinson's nine treasured values: courage, excellence, persistence, justice, teamwork, commitment, citizenship, determination and integrity.

Fans can see those inscriptions when they walk in the park -- and the majority of fans who attend any given game will walk through the Rotunda. It is visible from the Mets-Willets Point subway stop and is the main entranceway to the new park. For most fans, it is the most convenient way into the stadium. For others, it is well worth the side trip.

"We think we've got something special," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said.

It is in that special place that the Mets hosted the main segment of baseball's Jackie Robinson Day festivities on Wednesday, before the Mets played the Padres at Citi Field. They showed off their new Rotunda in the way it was meant to be shown.

The main inscription in the Rotunda is one spoken by Robinson himself: "A life is not important, except for the impact it has on other lives." Robinson's name is engraved in the Rotunda's faux-marble Terrazzo flooring, which replicates the surface of the much smaller entrance to old Ebbets Field. And a statue of Robinson in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform greets those who venture inside.

"It's just beautiful, and the most important thing is that Rachel is thrilled with it," Jackie Robinson Foundation CEO Della Britton Baeza said. "It came out exactly as they planned."

Rachel Robinson, on her first tour of the finished product, likened it to a cathedral.

"It's just the grandness of it," she said. "This is a tribute to Jack that in a million years he would've never have thought anyone would do. It feels very spiritual to me."

Rachel Robinson was at Shea Stadium last Jackie Robinson Day, when she, along with Wilpon, Baeza and others, helped foster excitement for the Rotunda. It was just a vision then, the type of thing they knew that they wanted, but the scope of which they couldn't entirely grasp yet.

They knew only that they wanted to use this new venue to properly honor the man who changed baseball forever.

"Millions of people should go through the Rotunda and think about that," Mets chairman Fred Wilpon said after the project was first announced. "Within the Rotunda, we are going to tell the story of Jackie Robinson, not only as a great baseball player, but also as a great American."

It certainly says something about the man that the Mets wanted to dedicate the most identifiable part of their new ballpark to a player who was never their own. But in a sense, he was. Robinson was a New York ballplayer, always merely a borough away. And the effects of what he did for the game -- breaking baseball's color barrier and paving the way for generations of black athletes to come -- still trickle down into every game in Flushing.

If not for Robinson, baseball and the Mets would be far different today. Perhaps there would be no Citi Field.

"It's obviously a big part of New York and a big part of New York's history," Jeff Wilpon said at last year's Jackie Robinson Day. "We wanted to make sure that he was properly recognized here."

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