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A Rotunda & Then Some

There was a lovely ceremony this afternoon to dedicate the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, featuring Rachel Robinson, Governor Paterson, Senator Schumer, Fred Wilpon and other dignitaries. It was more moving than you’d expect. Shea Stadium became the home office of Jackie Robinson’s legacy on this date in 1997, thus it’s right and fitting that his place in this sport, this city and this nation is preserved and embellished at Citi Field. The Mets have done a great job here.

I also want to compliment the Mets on rededicating the area outside the Rotunda as the new Casey Stengel Plaza, which was necessary once the original got lost in the shuffle of construction. No single personality represents New York baseball in all its major league forms than Casey Stengel. No individual was more responsible for creating the Mets Mystique than Casey Stengel. He made us an entity rather than a commodity. I’m so pleased the Mets haven’t forgotten to honor Casey Stengel.

As long as we’re handing out kudos, how about that Joan Payson Pavilion they’ve built? What a great way to remember the woman who set the tone for the franchise, who didn’t just finance it but loved it. She imbued the organization with a sense of fun and family from the get-go and it’s wonderful that the Mets have remembered her in the new place.

And what about Gil Hodges Hall? Could anything be more inspirational than the way the Mets have paid tribute to the manager who molded a roster of youngsters and journeymen into champions? Gil is remembered universally as one of the great leaders the game ever produced and it’s reassuring that generations who attend Mets games will be reminded of his influence every time they roam down his Hall. (It’s touching that Tom Seaver requested his statue appear there rather than out front as planned.)

You’ve got to love the William Shea Club. Not every organization would have the presence of mind to maintain a promient reminder of someone whose role in its creation is not easily explained but was absolutely essential. I also like the cheeky decor of blue and orange speckles, but that’s an aesthetic choice.

The Polo Lounge, upstairs from the Ebbets Club, is a nice nod to the team’s heritage. Great pictures from the Polo Grounds and fine displays devoted to the New York Giants and Original Mets. Nice to see New York’s National League club hasn’t forgotten any of its forebears.

Oh, and what about what they’ve done beyond center field? The salute to Negro League teams that played in New York and the semi-pro circuit that thrived in Queens and Brooklyn, the players who were born and/or grew up in the five boroughs…Koufax, Greenberg, Carew, Palmer, Frisch, Lou Gehrig even. It’s about time somebody captured all that. Certainly gives us something to talk about should we stop at Murph’s next door for a quick one before heading back to our seats (though I hate to leave it since they have that great montage of Mets play-by-play calls serving as the bar’s soundtrack; the waiters wearing plaid vests in homage to Lindsey is priceless).

Tell me this club doesn’t know how to honor its own self, which is really a way of honoring the fans. I get chills from the Walk of Distinction on the left field side, where they’ve reproduced plaques for every Met who’s in Cooperstown, with a few more arriving soon (Henderson this summer, Piazza eventually…yeah, I’ll even suck up Gl@v!ne being included when the time comes). The Mets Hall of Fame is coalescing so nicely in the administration building, too, with all the trophies and memorabilia. Plus the Seasons for the Ages permanent exhibit in right, commemorating each of our seven playoff clubs — funny that some of us worried the Mets would forget about stuff like that.

No, you have to hand it to the Mets. They got it right. They didn’t stop at Jackie Robinson and the Ebbets Club. They gave all of us a reason to feel a surge of pride in our team every time we enter Citi Field.

Doesn’t that sort of thing make you feel good all over? Isn’t this your ballpark like it oughta be?

Turn the sound down on the Mets game tonight at 9 and tune into SportstalkNY [1] when I join host Mark Rosenman to discuss Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets. Read about its cinematic qualities at Sport and Cinema [2], find out who else will be appearing at Metstradamus [3] and, if you haven’t ordered one for yourself or a Mets fan you like, get the book from Amazon [4], Barnes & Noble [5] or a bookstore near you. Keep in touch and join the discussion on Facebook [6].