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jackie robinson

After Delay, Plans for the Jackie Robinson Museum Are Back on Track

In ballparks around the country tomorrow, Major League Baseball and its teams will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, marking 64 years since Robinson broke the league's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Players around the league will wear Robinson's No. 42, and his widow, Rachel, and daughter Sharon will be on hand for the Yankees-Rangers game at Yankee Stadium.) And, after a delay, another celebration of Robinson's legacy is back on track: the Jackie Robinson Museum.

For a couple of years now, signage on a building at the corner of Varick and Canal streets has marked the future site of the museum. (The signs even include an expected opening date of 2010.) Della Britton Baeza, the president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, explains that because of the downturn in the economy, the foundation made the "conscious decision" in 2009 to put fund-raising for the museum on hold, and staffers who'd been working on the project shifted their attention to fund-raising for the foundation in general. Says Baeza, "Really, 2009 was when we got hit the hardest and focused on our primary mission, which is our flagship scholarship program. But we're back at full throttle now."

Indeed, Baeza says that the foundation has meetings about the museum set for this spring and summer. She says that they've raised about $14 million of the $25 million to $30 million goal for the museum (and an endowment to support it going forward), and they're officially still in the "quiet" phase of fund-raising — in which they're seeking larger donors — as opposed to the public campaign, which has not yet begun. Major donors so far include the Mets, Yankees, and Dodgers, plus the Yawkey Foundation and Nike. (Nike is the largest museum donor to date, with a gift of $5 million.)

Baeza says that it's still too early to give an expected open date, or even a date on which construction will begin — meetings with everyone from the program-planning committee to the architects need to happen first — but adds that, "My guess would be, hopefully by next spring you'll start to see some movement down there."

Says Baeza: "The museum is going to be an exciting addition to the legacy of Jackie Robinson, because now we'll be able to extend our educational mission beyond our college students ... and we'll be able to educate a broader segment of the population about not just Jackie's life, but the values by which he lived his life. So pretty exciting stuff."

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Photo: Jed Egan