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Wilpon proud of Citi Field debut

Wilpon proud of Citi Field debut

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- More than a day had passed since tears last formed in the eyes of Fred Wilpon. And the same emotion that had gripped him on Sunday morning gripped him again on Monday afternoon as he stood on a back field at the Mets' Spring Training headquarters.

Wilpon bit his upper lip to maintain control as he reviewed the experiences of the previous day. He had seen Citi Field enough that its opening on Sunday wouldn't bring him to tears. It was a glance down to the pavers under his feet that tugged at his heart and moistened his eyes.

On those pavers were acknowledgments for his parents and in-laws. Adjacent to those were pavers for his immediate family -- Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' COO, included. And then there was the one that touched his soul, the one ordered by his wife, Judy. The inscription: "The dream comes true."

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An "enormously sentimental" moment is how the Mets' owner characterized it.

"Very proud, too," Wilpon said.

Wilpon had immersed himself in the Citi experience on Sunday. He and Judy had arrived well before St. John's and Georgetown christened the new place. They stopped at the pavers and cried, they entered through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and smiled. They went to their suite behind the plate and pinched themselves.

Wilpon's Brooklyn and baseball roots are never far from him. He tells the story about slicing off a sliver of his right ring finger while working in a delicatessen when Bobby Thomson hit the home run in 1951. And as he reveled in his Dodgers past on Monday, he shared this story.

In his dressing area outside the shower in his Long Island home is a framed photograph of Ebbets Field and a likeness of Robinson. Also visible is the stand where his father would buy him a hot dog after each game they attended.

Emotion returned to Wilpon's face as he shared his past, a day after witnessing the first pitch thrown in the ballpark of the Mets' future.

Even as he spoke on Monday, he relived some of what already had happened at Citi Field. He had taken Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, on a tour of the stadium last week. She was taken aback.

"She said, 'Jackie was a humble man. He would never have believed he could have such an honor in his life,'" Wilpon said.

Wilpon envisioned a time when future generations would pass through the rotunda and read the precepts by which Robinson lived his life -- courage, intergrity, determination, persistence, citizenship, justice, commitment, teamwork and excellence -- and realize they have visited something of a museum for "not just to a great player," he said, "but a great American, too."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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