UCLA unveils Jackie Robinson mural at stadium named for baseball legend

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UCLA brightened an overcast Sunday in Los Angeles by pulling the cover off a new mural of former Bruin Jackie Robinson, who broke professional baseball's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so the Bruins celebrated a day early, before the final game of three-game San Diego Freeway series against the Loyola Marymount Lions.  The moment took on additional gravity due to the theatrical release of  "42," a new movie about Robinson's life that opened last week.

UCLA's Brenton Allen — an African American junior outfielder who was narrowly skipped over in the 2010 professional draft — commended Robinson for his courage and sacrifice.

"I'm honored to play in the stadium that bears his name," Allen said.

Allen was joined on the field by former Bruin player and coach Tim Leary, who also played for the L.A. Dodgers. Leary quoted a comment from Magic Johnson that appeared in Sunday's Los Angeles Times.

"If it wasn't for Jackie Robinson, I wouldn't be able to own the Dodgers," Johnson said. He joined an investor group, Guggenheim Baseball Management, last year to buy the Dodgers for a record-setting $2 billion.

The mural is a colorful likeness of Robinson swinging the bat, in his Bruins uniform, surrounded by symbols of his athletic achievement. 

"It's one of 25 murals being donated to 25 colleges" said Mike Sullivan, the artist. Sullivan lives in Orange County and described himself as huge sports fan. "I wanted it to be an inspiration, to show UCLA students what they can do."

The Robinson mural, which is positioned next to a statue of the legend on a walkway behind the seats above the first base line, is the ninth mural Sullivan, a lifetime artist (he's know what he wanted to do since he was five years old), has completed so far.

The first was of Pat Tillman, the Arizona State University football standout who later played for the Arizona Cardinals in the National Football League before becoming and Army Ranger and being killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

The Robinson mural contains numerous references to Robinson's achievements, growing up in Southern California before moving on to culture-shifting significance. 

Prior to UCLA, Robinson graduated from John Muir High School and Pasadena Junior College. He was the first Bruin to letter in four sports — baseball, football, basketball, and track — then played semi-pro football in Hawaii before being drafted into the U.S. Army after the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor and the nation's entry in World War II.

Then came the negro leagues and Branch Rickey's fateful decision to bring Robinson to the Dodgers, the inspiration for the film "42."

Little leaguers and Bruin fans crowded around the mural after it was unveiled, snapping picture and avidly discussing mentions of UCLA in the movie. 

One fan studying the mural summed it up. "That is so cool!" he said.

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