An Unlikely Pen Pal — Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson #42 of the Brooklyn Dodgers poses for a portrait circa 1947 - 1956. (Photo by Photo File/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Getty Images/MLB Photos
Sixty years after he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke baseball's color barrier, Jackie Robinson is remembered by America as a pioneer, but this man has his own unique memories and they date back to the time when he just seven years old.

Ronnie Rabinovitz of Sheyboygan, Wisc., was Jackie Robinson's pen-pal and friend.

"It's nice to know how you feel about me and it means a great deal," one of the letters from Robinson reads.

He was Jackie Robinson. He's famous around the world. Why would he take time to write to a kid, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers asked Rabinovitz.

"I don't know, Cynthia," Rabinovitz said. "We were so different. I was black; he was white; I was Jewish; he was Christian. And yet there was this bond."

This unlikeliest of friendships began in 1954 with a simple request for an autographed photo and developed into much more.

"I'd run to the mailbox to see if there was another letter," Rabinovitz said. "If there wasn't I was a little disappointed. If there was, it was like, 'oh my God, I got another letter from Jackie!'"

Even though he was a child he'd get a handwritten letter from the Major Leaguer every six weeks or so. And whenever the Dodgers came to nearby Milwaukee Robinson made time for Ronnie.

What do you think you offered him that he valued so?

"I think my friendship, and my sincerity, and the comfort and ease to be just himself," Rabinovitz said.

Over time Ronnie Rabinovitz came to realize that Jackie Robinson was much more than just a baseball player.

"He changed this whole world and he did it alone," Rabinovitz said. "There was no civil rights movement; there was no Martin Luther King. He did it alone."

Nowadays Rabinovitz, who makes his living as salesman near Minneapolis, gets his greatest joy from sharing his stories with a whole new generation to whom Robinson is just a name in a history book.

Stories about a boy and his hero that lasted long after Robinson retired from baseball.

"Ronnie, one of the things that pleases me most is that our friendship that continues even thought I am no longer connected with baseball," one letter from Robinson reads. "It is friends like you that make me feel everything that happened was worthwhile."

He really cared about Rabinovitz.

"Yeah, he did and I loved him," Rabinovitz said.

Sunday, on the 60th anniversary of his debut, America will pay tribute to Jackie Robinson. And a now 61-year-old man will remember his special friend.