Loveland, Colo. (AP) – As he coats a mold of Jackie Robinson with wax, metalsmith Alex Haines reflected on the extra importance of a project that will soon give the city of Wichita, Kansas, a replacement bronze statue of the baseball icon after thieves brazenly destroyed the original.

"Many sculptures come through here," said Haines at the Art Castings studio in Loveland, Colorado, where the original statue was cast. "Some are a little bit more important than others. And this is definitely one of them."

It all started in January, when thieves cut the original statue off at its ankles, leaving only Robinson’s cleats behind at McAdams Park in Wichita. About 600 children play there in a youth baseball league called League 42. It is named after Robinson’s uniform number with the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he broke the major league’s color barrier in 1947.

The news spread wide, and a national outpouring of donations followed that enabled Wichita to quickly reorder a replacement.

"There’s been a lot of serendipity when it comes to League 42 throughout our entire existence," said Bob Lutz, who is executive director of the Little League nonprofit that commissioned the statue. "It’s almost like there’s somebody watching out for us. And certainly, in this regard, we feel like … there was a guardian angel making sure that we could do this statue again."

As news spread of the theft, the nonprofit was flooded with an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 in donations. That includes a $100,000 gift from Major League Baseball, which will cover the statue’s $45,000 replacement cost and other improvements, including landscaping and adding decorative bollards that will keep people from driving too close to the statue.

The rest of the money raised will go toward enhancing some of the nonprofit’s programming and facilities. Last year, the group opened the Leslie Rudd Learning Center, which includes an indoor baseball facility and a learning lab. There might even be enough money to add artificial turf and more lighting, Lutz said.