Cyclones to honor Robinson, Reese

Cyclones to honor Robinson, Reese

The friendship that Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese shared during their playing days in Brooklyn became the stuff from which baseball legends are carved.

Reese, a native of Kentucky, overcame an aura of racism and generations of prejudice to welcome Robinson when he arrived in Brooklyn in 1947. As Robinson battled racism, from within the Dodgers clubhouse as well as from the opposition, Reese stood by his side, showing why he was the team captain and one of the classiest people ever to play the game.

Legend has it that Reese went up to Robinson when he entered the Dodgers clubhouse for the first time. He shook his hand and welcomed him, helping change the course of baseball history.

The Brooklyn Cyclones, sometime during the New York-Penn League season this summer, will honor their friendship by unveiling a statue of the two friends that will have a permanent home outside KeySpan Park in Coney Island.

The 8 ½-foot bronze statue depicting the moment that forged their relationship -- the handshake -- will be erected outside the entrance to the park so that a whole new generation of baseball fans in Brooklyn can learn of their story, of their courage and honor and how they battled racism together.

Reese helped stop a petition among his teammates to have Robinson kicked off the team. In Cincinnati, on an afternoon when Robinson was being threatened and heckled by the fans at Crosley Field, Reese walked from his position at shortstop over to Robinson by second base and put his arm around his teammate, forever cementing their relationship while telling the world that the color barrier had been broken and that Brooklyn's new player wasn't going anywhere.

Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Friday and though there won't be any games in Brooklyn, New York won't forget one of its heroes. The Mets will be hosting the Marlins and, like every home team that night, will have a special ceremony to mark the occasion. The Empire State Building will glow in Dodger Blue on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day (April 14) and the NASDAQ Times Square Market Place will run information about Jackie Robinson, Jackie Robinson Day and the Jackie Robinson Foundation throughout the day on Friday, April 15.

Artist Will Behrend was commissioned to create the statue. His work can be found outside SBC Park in San Francisco where a monument and statue of Willie Mays stands honoring his accomplishments. The unveiling of the statue was supposed to coincide with the opening of the NY-Penn League season but delays in construction have pushed the unveiling back to sometime this summer.

The statue will serve as the focal point of a surrounding pavilion and adjacent to the Brooklyn Baseball Gallery. It will also incorporate the nine principles that guided Robinson's life -- courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment, and excellence.

"The mayor has just about raised the money for the statue that will be in Brooklyn, right in front of the Cyclones," Sharon Robinson, Jackie's daughter, said. "Yes, the Dodgers moved to LA, but there is baseball in Brooklyn and there will be a Jackie and Pee Wee. Being teammates, Pee Wee as a white southerner stepping forward, being captain of the team, that was a big break. Them being able to play well as a team and going on to the championship, they couldn't have molded themselves as team.

"Pee Wee was always a friend, and we had a good relationship with him. I'd met him a number of times growing up. Neither of them talked so much about it -- everyone else did. It was a moment, a moment. But most importantly, they were shortstop and second baseman. That's the ultimate pairing in baseball."

Robinson and Reese played together on six pennant winners in 10 years, including winning the 1955 World Series together.

The $1 million needed for the monument was raised through donations with a large portion coming from New York Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, a Brooklyn native, and his son Jeff, the club's chief operating officer. The Brooklyn Cyclones, the Dodgers, the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball and financier Ted Forstman also contributed.

Donations can still be made to The Mayor's Fund to Advance NYC, One Liberty Plaza, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10006, RE: Robinson/Reese-Cyclones.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for The Brooklyn Cyclones contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.