He remembers watching him play. A swing and crack, a streak of movement across the dirt, that immortal number on his back.
Jim Dube of Borough Park was about six in the early 1950s when he first watched Jackie Robinson play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the beloved team whose exit stings natives to this day. Saturday, with the Brooklyn “B” on his hat, Dube watched a Robinson circa 1947 again break baseball’s color barrier in “42,” Hollywood’s biography of Robinson and his number, the only jersey to be retired in all of baseball.
The film “brought me back to my Dodger memories,” Dube said as he left Cobble Hill Cinemas. His ears still ring from the car horns honking when the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series, Robinson’s second to last season.
Carmen Cerio Belle was a student at Sacred Heart catholic school in downtown Brooklyn in the mid-50s. “The monsignor sent us home from school,” when the Dodgers won the World Series, the Ditmas Park resident said.
Finding devoted Brooklyn baseball fans was not hard Saturday in Cobble Hill. Filmgoers came for a glimpse of the borough as it was, portrayed in bright colors of the immediate post-World War Two period by “42,” which chose to focus on Robinson’s initial recruitment by Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey and his first season with the Dodgers.
“He changed everything in baseball,” said Patricia Polemeni, of Cobble Hill.
Robinson and all his fortitude and humanity is played effectively by Chadwick Boseman while Harrison Ford captures Rickey, chomping cigars and stealing scenes like Robinson stole bases.
Jeff Weinstein of Sheepshead Bay lived near the Dodgers’ home at Ebbets Field. When he first saw Robinson play in 1949 or 1950, he was only 6 and didn’t understand what Robinson represented at the time, knowing only that he was a great ballplayer. “I’d like to see what memories it brings out,” he said while waiting for a screening.
Dube laments that more than 50 years after they left the borough, “People in Brooklyn have forgotten the Dodgers completely,” he said
Few in East Flatbush seemed aware Thursday that Robinson had lived there between 1947 and 1949 in a rented apartment of a two story house on Tilden Avenue. At a press event calling for the house to be granted city landmark status, many people taking part, including the local community board, said they’d only become aware of the house in the last few years. Passerby Garth Donaldson lives around the corner but didn’t know until he saw the cameras that the house even existed. “I did not know he used to live here,” Donaldson said. “Piece of history right here and I just keep riding past it.”
While memory may have faded, the movie seems to have jarred it for many.
Bushwick resident Anthony Rowe thought “42” was true to the essence of Brooklyn. “Being a Brooklynite, everything’s about grit,” the Brooklyn native said. He actually portrayed Robinson in a play about Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente.
It’s only natural to Rowe that Robinson played for Brooklyn, a black man in what had been all-white baseball, one chosen because he could stand tall against unrelenting racism and resentment. “Keep on grinding. That’s the story of Brooklyn right there,” he said.
Saul Radow left the theater with a refreshed memory of watching the Dodgers as a young kid at the end of Robinson’s career. He still remembers the names of the players of his Dodgers, the ones who won the World Series. “I remember the year that they won,” the Kensington resident said, “which was the greatest year for any Brooklyn kid.”
Today, Radow is glad Brooklyn has a professional team once again with the Nets, after the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958. “It’s nice to hear Brooklyn said over and over again,” he said.