What began as a correspondence between a young boy and a legendary baseball
player has, decades later, become a nationally recognized recounting of the
warmth, insight and friendship Jackie Robinson shared with Edina's Ron
When Rabinovitz, now 67, was a 7-year-old in Wisconsin, he met Robinson and they began exchanging letters. They kept in touch until Robinson died in 1972. Three decades later, their relationship became the subject of an MLB Network documentary called "Letters for Jackie." First shown in April 2011, it has had periodic airings, including April 15, 2012 -- the 65th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's race barrier when he played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rabinovitz has talked at schools and baseball's Hall of Fame about Robinson. Their friendship also is being turned into a play by Eric Simonson, who won an Academy Award in 2005 for producing the short-subject documentary, "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin." Simonson has also written two sports-themed plays, "Lombardi" and "Magic/Bird."
"The Incredible Season of Ronnie Rabinovitz" takes place in 1960 and explores Rabinovitz's relationship with Robinson, as well as a visit to the Rabinovitz home from then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. It is scheduled to premiere Feb. 1, 2014, at the History Theatre in St. Paul.
I checked in with Rabinovitz on Monday, April 8, to get his thoughts on "42," the movie about Robinson's first season with the Dodgers, which just opened in theaters. Here, via e-mail, is Rabinovitz ...
On the movie: I thought it was excellent. Not only did it show the tremendous struggle Jackie went through, but also it showed what (his wife) Rachel went through. People forget she was right there by his side and, although he was the one getting the abuse first-hand, can you imagine her sitting in the stands having to listen to all those cat calls and the verbal abuse he
took, not to mention the fear she had of he being shot or hurt seriously? It also showed the beautiful love affair they had. Although it did show some of the terrible verbal abuse he received, obviously they couldn't put it all in there."
On whether he had any involvement with the movie: "I was not contacted by the producers but keep in mind this was all about the 1947 season. I was two years old."
On the impact Robinson had in his life: "The biggest lesson I learned from Jackie was never to back down on a cause you truly believe in -- no matter what the odds against you might be. I also learned to treat people the same, whether they are famous or just ordinary folks. They all are important and need to be treated with
respect. There is good and bad in many people, but it is not because of their religion or the color of their skin."
On Robinson's legacy: "He was a true hero and role model. He never drank. He never smoked. He never took drugs and he never refused to sign an autograph for a kid. A legacy doesn't just happen. The legacy of Jackie Robinson becomes more clear the more we talk about it. That is why I am so pleased that Jackie is finally getting the recognition he truly deserves. They say Babe Ruth changed baseball. Jackie Robinson changed America. He was arguably the most important athlete that ever lived. What Jackie has done for our culture is more powerful that just changing the face of sports and breaking down the color barrier.
He changed all our lives."
On what Rachel Robinson once said about his relationship with Jackie Robinson: "Rachel was quoted as saying, 'It is a real testimony to Jack because Ron is so specific about what he felt, what he learned and what his intentions were of carrying on Jack's name.That is obviously something I would want to hear because, in a way, Jack lives through people like Ronnie. The other thing that goes through all the letters is he calls our children by name and Jack calls his family by name. There's an intimacy that is unusual. There are so many things about it. There's the generational thing, the racial thing, the religious thing. Even a child relating to a man that way. The fact that two strangers could come together that way is really extraordinary.' "
Follow Bob Sansevere at twitter.com/bobsansevere
(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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