Lifelong friend of Jackie Robinson says '42' honors legend - FOX 10 News |

Lifelong friend of Jackie Robinson says '42' honors legend

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EDINA, Minn. (KMSP) -

The movie about Jackie Robinson, "42," opened this weekend to rake in more than $27 million, and a Twin Cities man who enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the breakthrough baseball star says it's well-deserved.

The box office numbers set an all-time record for a baseball movie premier, according to Forbes -- but while most fans only know Robinson through stories and movies, and Edina man was there as he saw his hero endure the pain and triumph of becoming the first African American player in the major leagues.

"He was my friend," Ronnie Rabinovitz told FOX 9 News as he gave a tour of the shrine he keeps in his office. "I adored him."

Rabinovitz was 7 years old when his father wrote to Robinson to tell him just how much a kid from Sheboygan, Wis., admired him.

"This was the first autographed picture he sent me. Pretty formal," Rabinovitz recalled.

Soon after he got that signed photo, Rabinovitz got to meet his idol when Robinson came to Milwaukee.

"From that time on, we became the very dearest of friends.

Rabinovitz said the two would write to each other and see each other when Robinson came to town. One of the most memorable visits came on his 10th birthday.

"Jackie hit a home run, and as he's rounding 3rd he waves to me like, 'That one's for you,'" Rabinovitz remembered.

That night, the two had dinner together.

"Here I had Jackie Robinson at my 10th birthday, singing 'Happy Birthday' to me," Rabinovitz said. "I couldn't believe the whole thing. It was so exciting."

Even after Robinson's baseball career ended, the two remained close.

"It's friends like you that made me feel like everything that happened was worthwhile," read one of his letters.

What happened to Robinson is told throughout the film, and Rabinovitz has already seen it twice because he said it's an accurate depiction of his life.

"Loved it. It was very emotional for me," Rabinovitz said. "Fortunately, they wanted to keep it PG-13, but had they really showed everything, it would have been X-rated because there was so much abuse."

Rabinovitz was just 2 years old when Robinson first came up with the Dodgers, and he said Robinson told him all the stories.

"They spiked him. They threw black cats on the field. He wasn't able to sleep with his team, eat with his team," Rabinovitz said.

Now, 40 years after his death, Robinson's legacy continues.

"They say Babe Ruth changed baseball. Jackie Robinson changed America," Rabinovitz said.

For Rabinovitz, he also changed the life of a boy who grew to an adult that shared his story to keep that legacy alive.

"I was white; he was black. I was Jewish; he was Christian. I was a kid; he was an adult. I was from a little town in the Midwest; he was from out East -- and yet, there was this bond of friendship and love," Rabinovitz said. "It was amazing, just amazing."

The legacy will also continue next year when a play about Rabinovitz's life will open. The script was written by Eric Simonson, the same playwright who penned "Lombardi."

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