DENVER -- Amidst music and speeches, a glistening bronze statue in honor of baseball pioneer Branch Rickey was unveiled at the main entrance to Coors Field on Thursday morning.
The Rotary Club of Denver donated the 9-foot, 6-inch tall statue, atop a four-foot granite base, entitled "The Player." It's the same figure that it awarded, in a much smaller size, to the recipient of the Branch Rickey Award, which honors the Major League player who best exemplifies the Rotary's motto of "service over self."
The statue is more than just a focal point for the entrance to Coors Field. Rotary International is in its 100th year of community service, and each club was asked to come up with a project that would endure for the next century.
The Denver club has been honoring Branch Rickey Award winners since 1991. Hall of Famers such as Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Kirby Puckett and Paul Molitor, as well as current standouts such as Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling and 2004 winner Jamie Moyer are among the honorees. The annual awards dinner benefits Denver Kids, a program for at-risk students in Denver Public Schools that the Rotary has been a part of in various forms since 1946.
The statue of a baseball player with a ball in his right hand, a glove tucked under that arm and a bat over his left shoulder brings attention to the award and the people it benefits.
"It's just a perfect circle," Denver Mayor John W. Hickenlooper said.
Rickey invented baseball's modern farm system and helped lay the groundwork for modern scouting and statistical analysis. But he is known best for signing Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers, an action that helped bring down the color barrier in the Major Leagues.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb, the first African American to hold that post, recalled his memories of Robinson. Webb grew up on Chicago's South Side, but he made what in those days was a rare journey with his father to Wrigley Field to see Robinson play against the Cubs and get his autograph.
He said he and his father "admired Branch Rickey for having the guts" to change sports history and as a result help lead to changes elsewhere in society.
Rickey's grandson, Branch B. Rickey, president of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, said his family appreciates the honor, but the statue is more than just a family tribute.
"I'm proud that my grandfather had set the example that he did, but more I see it as a tribute to the Rotary Club of Denver and a commitment to Denver youth," he said.
George Lundeen, sculptor and creator of "The Player," participated in the ceremony, and threw the honorary first pitch for the Rockies-Cardinals game on Thursday afternoon.
Rockies CEO Charlie Monfort said that Coors Field boasts of a statue along the lines of the Willie Stargell statue at Pittsburgh's PNC Park and the Willie Mays statue at San Francisco's SBC Park. It symbolizes a franchise's aspirations.
"That's what we're trying to do here, get players with the character that Branch Rickey would seek out," Monfort said.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.