Ground was broken for the Jackie Robinson Museum after a 10-year wait — matching the length of the Hall of Famer's barrier-breaking major league career.
Rachel Robinson, the 94-year-old widow of the Brooklyn Dodgers star, attended Thursday's ceremony in the SoHo section of Manhattan along with her daughter, Sharon, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and former National League President Len Coleman.
"There are a lot of American heroes. I think Jackie Robinson is in a class by himself," Manfred said, "and really it is impossible to do enough to recognize what he means and continues to mean to process of change."
About $23.5 million has been raised to build the museum, now scheduled to open in spring 2019 on the street level of an already-existing office building. The Jackie Robinson Foundation hopes to raise a total of $42 million — matching Robinson's uniform number — to fund an endowment that will pay for the museum's operations.
"Breaking ground allows us to show the country that we are for real," Sharon Robinson said.
Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 and died in 1972. Rachel Robinson started the Jackie Robinson Foundation a year later.
The 18,500 square-foot space, which will include a 75-seat theater, originally was to open in 2009 or 2010 but was delayed when the Great Recession slowed fundraising.
"The bottom fell out," foundation president Della Britton Baeza said.
Strada Education Network last month announced a $6.5 million gift to the foundation, which awards several dozen college scholarships annually.
Sharon Robinson, now 67, said her mother's wedding dress, currently in their Connecticut home, will be among the exhibits, which will portray her father's role in the civil rights movement.
"There will be a lot that kids, when you have a visual in addition to reading about something, I think they'll understand the totality of the man and the importance of having a voice and using it," Sharon Robinson said. "I think today is more complex. It is not just a black and white America. We have a great deal of work that needs to be done so that we really are an inclusive country."
Baseball has been concerned about the drop in African-American players — just 7.7 percent on opening-day rosters, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, down from 18 percent in 1991. While there are three managers of color, down from 10 in 2009, and four general managers of color, the institute said people of color comprise 28 percent of central baseball's professional staff
"It's important to remember that baseball has a tremendously diverse workforce. I think it's probably a mistake to focus on any single group, and we have more diversity in the game today than we've ever had," Manfred said. "Having said that, baseball has in place numerous programs designed to promote African-American participation and we feel that our partnership with the Jackie Robinson Foundation is an important part of that programmatic effort."