The Day Mariano Rivera Learned About ‘the Jackie Robinson of Football’


Rod Kennedy Jr. has bought positive china and ceramic animals, written cookbooks and manufactured tin replicas of baseball stadiums. He’s the president of the Metropolitan Postcard Membership. He as soon as unearthed the blueprints for Ebbets Discipline, and tried to have it rebuilt on the Brooklyn waterfront. Till not too long ago, he had by no means heard of Fritz Pollard.

But there Mr. Kennedy was throughout the morning rush hour final Friday, boarding a commuter practice in Grand Central to induct Mr. Pollard into the New Rochelle Stroll of Fame, a show Mr. Kennedy created with native officers within the Westchester County, N.Y., metropolis a decade in the past.

Mr. Pollard, who died in 1986, was one in every of two Black gamers within the authentic N.F.L. and the league’s first Black head coach. He went on to run an funding firm, personal a number of coal firms and a film studio and publish a weekly newspaper in Harlem.

“This man is the Jackie Robinson of soccer,” Mr. Kennedy, 76, stated, emphatically. “And for those who requested anybody on this practice who Fritz Pollard was, they wouldn’t have a clue.”

New Rochelle’s mayor was anticipated on the occasion, as was the county historian and, most notably, the opposite inductee, the nice former Yankees nearer Mariano Rivera. Plaques for the 2 males had been already in place at Ruby Dee Park, together with one other 49 honoring notable metropolis residents, all of them donated and created by Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy, who lived in New Rochelle till he was 10, defined his motivations for creating the Stroll of Fame. “I’m a historian,” he stated. “Who is aware of why I do issues? I simply get excited and do issues.”

New Rochelle was an early epicenter of Covid-19 instances on the East Coast, and city officers scheduled this yr’s induction ceremony for a weekday morning to restrict turnout. The final time the city honored Mr. Rivera, at a 2019 parade after he was elected to the Baseball Corridor of Fame, 1000’s of individuals confirmed up.

By 11 a.m., as Mr. Rivera took a seat close to the rostrum, a couple of dozen individuals had gathered on a garden exterior the general public library, largely Yankee followers or individuals concerned with metropolis authorities.

Sal Bongiorno, a retired ConEd employee in a Rivera T-shirt, carried a baseball and a figurine of Mr. Rivera, hoping to get autographs.

“Fingers crossed,” Mr. Bongiorno stated. He had by no means heard of Mr. Pollard.

A hearth truck handed, its siren blaring.

Mr. Kennedy frowned on the turnout however he was excited to be again in New Rochelle. “Mighty Mouse flew out of that constructing,” he stated, pointing to the close by Kaufman Constructing, as soon as the house of the Terrytoons animation studio. “It was the tallest constructing in New Rochelle till Donald Trump constructed that monstrosity,” he stated, not pointing to the 40-story Trump Plaza, which was accomplished in 2007.

Mr. Kennedy attended army faculty with Mr. Trump, however that’s one other story. Mr. Kennedy has lots of them. “It’s all in my guide,” he stated. “I’ll ship it to you.”

He had hoped for a much bigger ceremony, perhaps on a weekend. Why not a marching band? He had composed a march, he advised Barbara Davis, a director of the Westchester County Historic Society. “It’s referred to as ‘Di di di di di di’,” he stated, as a result of he had not but written lyrics. He supplied to donate the sheet music to the town.

Ms. Davis advised the group about Mr. Pollard’s life and profession, eliciting applause when she talked about a Sixties stint teaching the New Rochelle highschool soccer staff. Frederick Douglass Pollard, who moved to city in 1961, the identical yr because the actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, had been a star at Brown College and the primary Black participant within the Rose Bowl. Enjoying for the Akron Execs in what grew to become the N.F.L., he needed to gown and eat other than his teammates, and he discovered to spin onto his again together with his cleats up every time he was tackled to forestall gamers from leaping on him.

Mr. Pollard’s rival was Jim Thorpe, the star of the Canton Bulldogs; his illustrious teammate was Paul Robeson. Their names are legend; his, largely misplaced.

In contrast to Jackie Robinson, Mr. Pollard was not a harbinger of quick sweeping change in his sport. From 1934 to 1946, the N.F.L. had no Black gamers. It didn’t have one other Black head coach till Artwork Shell of the Raiders in 1989.

Glenice Reavis, who had come to the New Rochelle occasion to see Mr. Rivera honored, stated she was not shocked that she had not heard of Mr. Pollard, although she had lived within the metropolis all of her life.

“My grandfather was a supervisor for the Negro baseball leagues right here in New Rochelle, and that’s by no means been acknowledged,” Ms. Reavis stated. “There’s lots of issues which have occurred in our group that we’re not made conscious of. So this implies so much”

When it got here time to just accept his honor, Mr. Rivera, who moved to New Rochelle as a younger ballplayer, confirmed why he’s thought of the best nearer of all time.

“I fell in love with New Rochelle prefer it was my hometown, a small fishing village in Panama,” he advised the group, earlier than mentioning plans for a studying heart he desires to open for native youngsters, and for which he’s now elevating cash.

“It’s not about me,” he stated. “It’s about investing in our future.”

After the ceremony, a P.A. system performed Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the track that crammed Yankee Stadium every time Mr. Rivera entered a recreation. Mr. Rivera signed autographs and took images with the small group of followers in attendance, and spoke reverently about his fellow honoree, whose identify he had first discovered that morning.

“Now I do know just a little bit extra about him,” Mr. Rivera stated, smiling. He added: “I had nobody telling me I can not go to that restaurant, I can not use that rest room. He went by all that stuff. I’m pleased with individuals like these, who did what wanted to be finished for others. For me. He did it for me. So he to me is the Jackie Robinson of soccer.”

Mr. Kennedy declared himself happy with the occasion, and particularly with the situation of the plaques, which on a earlier go to had appeared dirty by birds. Carl Reiner! Willie Mays! Dr. Henry Heimlich, savior of untold restaurant patrons! Lillian Gish!

Quickly it was time to get again to Manhattan to organize for the postcard membership’s first assembly for the reason that begin of the pandemic, simply two days away.

However Mr. Kennedy not too long ago bought his voluminous postcard assortment to a person from Missouri, maybe draining a few of his pleasure for the membership. “I’m searching for my subsequent mission,” he stated on the practice dwelling.


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