Mets' Citi Field at center of tribute for Jackie Robinson Day

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NEW YORK -- Rachel Robinson walked past cheering construction workers and into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda for the first time, stood on a balcony above the 160-foot wide floor and was awed as she gazed at the 70-foot high arches.

"It's like walking into a cathedral in a way," she said. "I love St. Peter's in Rome, but I don't know if I can compare this to St. Peter's."

On the 61st anniversary of the day her husband broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, more than 330 players, managers and coaches -- including nine entire teams -- wore Jackie Robinson's No. 42 to celebrate the Hall of Famer's accomplishments.

The center of the celebration was at Citi Field, the New York Mets' $800 million ballpark under construction adjacent to Shea Stadium.

The Mets unveiled designs for the rotunda, which will contain eight huge pictures of Robinson and have an 8-foot statue of his number in Dodger blue. It will be the central entrance for the ballpark, which opens in 2009, and the Mets estimate 30,000 fans per game will pass through.

"People will say: 'I'll meet you at 42.' Everybody will know where that is," Mets owner Fred Wilpon said, lovingly putting his hand on the back of Rachel Robinson, still spry at age 85.

Robinson also announced the Jackie Robinson Foundation will open a Jackie Robinson Museum in the Tribeca section of Lower Manhattan and that half of the $25 million cost has been raised for the museum, projected to open in 2010.

She spoke to fans during a pregame ceremony before the Mets played the Washington Nationals, telling them: "We must create a social climate that offers new opportunity for all people."

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers for the first time April 15, 1947.

He died in 1972, and his number was retired for all major-league teams during ceremonies at Shea Stadium attended by President Clinton on the 50th anniversary.

Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera is the only player remaining from then who still wears No. 42 throughout the season.

Nine Jackie Robinson scholars read values that defined the player during a news conference at Shea Stadium before people moved over to the new ballpark.

The Robinson Rotunda will have those values engraved into its floor and etched into its archways: "Courage. Excellence. Persistence. Justice. Teamwork. Commitment. Citizenship. Determination. Integrity."

"My father did not write them down, but very much he lived these values," said Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter.

The rotunda will be open to tours by appointment on days when the team isn't playing, and Wilpon said he expected every schoolchild in New York to visit, some more than once.

"This is an overwhelming experience," Robinson said. "At my stage of life, you're looking for permanence, you're looking for things that are going to shore up the future. So many times developments don't last, progress doesn't last. What the rotunda means to me is we have evidence of the progress we've made in the past."


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