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To celebrate Jackie Robinson's birthday, donations pour in to replace destroyed Wichita statue

A bronze statue of legendary baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kan., during the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.
Travis Heying
/
AP
A bronze statue of legendary baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson was stolen from a park in Wichita, Kan., during the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

Just one online fundraiser brought in $145,000 to replace a bronze statue of Jackie Robinson that was stolen from a park in Wichita. Fire crews found burned remnants of the statue a few miles away. Police are still searching for those responsible.

Donations poured in Wednesday to replace a destroyed statue of Jackie Robinson on what would have been the 105th birthday of the first player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

Major League Baseball pledged support. And the total raised just through one online fundraiser surpassed $145,000, which is far in excess of the estimated $75,000 value of the bronze statue that was cut from its base last week at a park in Wichita, Kansas. Police are searching for those responsible.

Only the statue's feet were left at McAdams Park, where about 600 children play in a youth baseball league called League 42, which is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major leagues' color barrier in 1947.

Fire crews found burned remnants of the statue Tuesday while responding to a trash can fire at another park about 7 miles away. A truck believed to be used in the theft previously was found abandoned, and police said the theft was captured on surveillance video.

Bob Lutz, executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the sculpture, said Wednesday in a message on X, formerly Twitter, that the MLB commissioner’s office and 30 clubs had committed funding toward the cost of replacing the statue and providing other support.

“Amazing, huh?” he said.

News Jackie Robinson statue found destroyed after being stolen from Wichita park Kylie Cameron

Lutz had said earlier that the money raised also could enhance some of its programming and facilities. In April, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab.

“We’re not just baseball,” Lutz said. “We have after school education, enrichment and tutoring.”

One of the largest donations is a $10,000 pledge from an anonymous former Major League Baseball player who won a World Series. Wichita police Chief Joe Sullivan, who announced the donation over the weekend, has urged anyone involved in the theft to surrender and vowed that arrests were imminent.

“The community, along with the business community and the nation as a whole, have demonstrated an incredible outpouring of support,” Sullivan said in a statement Wednesday. “This effort highlights the kindness of the people and their determination to rebuild what was taken away from our community.”

Lutz, whose friend, the artist John Parsons, made the statue before his death, said the mold is still viable and anticipated that a replacement can be erected within a matter of months.

“We value what it represents,” he said. “It’s important that our 600 kids understand what it represents. And, we make every effort to educate our kids about the role that Jackie Robinson played in life and civil rights, his life beyond sports. He’s the absolute best role model you could imagine.”

League 42 drew attention to Robinson’s birthday Wednesday in a Facebook post, noting that “his legacy will hold up forever” and asking for donations.

Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, paving the way for generations of Black American ballplayers. He’s considered not only a sports legend but also a civil rights icon. Robinson died in 1972.

Lutz said that the league appeals to “all kids, but especially to kids of color" and that the connection to Robinson resonated.

“We can’t imagine, being named League 42 without a Jackie Robinson statue in our park," he said. "It was a no-brainer when we went about trying to name our league. And the name League 42 came up. It was like lightning and struck. We knew we had our name.”

This story was originally published by the Associated Press.

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