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In Jersey City, statue marks Jackie's triumph
02/02/2009 9:03 AM ET
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Sy Hart, an African-American Jersey City resident in his late 20s, walks by the 14-foot statue of Jackie Robinson at the Journal Square PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) Station almost every day, and he often thinks about why it's there.

"Jackie Robinson started off with the Brooklyn Dodgers' Minor League Baseball team in Montreal ... the Royals," explained Hart. "And his first game was here, against the Jersey City Giants."

In that game, on April 18, 1946, Robinson led Montreal's 14-1 rout with four RBIs, four runs scored, two stolen bases and four hits, including a three-run homer. Roosevelt Stadium, less than five miles from where the statue now stands, held a sellout crowd that witnessed history in the making.

The ballpark, situated at Route 440 and Danforth Avenue, was demolished in 1985 after decades of decay and neglect, but Robinson's historic performance was immortalized when the statue was erected in 1998. Then-National League president Leonard Coleman attended the unveiling ceremony.

Bret Schundler, who was mayor of Jersey City at the time, said of Robinson's performance, "It was more than just sports history. It's part of the story of the American people."

The statue, commissioned by the Jackie Robinson Foundation and created by Susan Wagner -- who also created the statue of Roberto Clemente that stands outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh -- serves as a physical reminder of Robinson's strength and courage, in which some Jersey City natives have long found inspiration.

Willie Banks, who grew up to pitch at the Major League level with the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and four other teams, told the Hudson Dispatch in 1986, "It was rough for him to be the only black in an all-white league. He had to deal with all the slurs. Being black, I can understand that. But with everything that he went through, he makes you want to work harder."

At the time, Banks was the star pitcher for St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City.

"Having grown up around here," said Mike Larkin, who regularly travels through Journal Square, "I knew that he played in Roosevelt Stadium."

Larkin has many memories of the ballpark.

"When the Jersey Indians were here, I used to go to games. I saw Rickey Henderson play left field," he said. Henderson played for the Double-A Jersey City A's of the Eastern League in 1978.

"I've seen concerts there, I've seen wrestling matches there. There used to be an ice skating rink there. I took my driver's test there. Of course, it used to [have] a huge parking lot," Larkin continued.

"I do like the statue," the Jersey City native admitted, voicing concern that some might not be aware of Robinson's connection to the area.

Charles, a young Jersey City resident who commutes through the Journal Square PATH Station five days a week, says the statue makes him wish Roosevelt Stadium was still standing and professional baseball was still played in his town.

The statue honoring Robinson "absolutely" belongs in Jersey City, said Charles, who added the municipality "should have a Jackie Robinson Day."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.