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Dodgers start fundraiser to fight cancer

July 31, 2007|Bill Plaschke | Times Staff Writer

He was covered in tubes and missing his hair, yet Christopher Jensen was strong enough to stretch his smile into the embrace of Frank McCourt, and the Dodgers owner smiled back.

"You're my first real friend in Los Angeles," McCourt told the dying 15-year-old cancer patient three years ago when they met at Childrens Hospital.

They remained friends, with McCourt quietly visiting Jensen on several occasions, playing host to him at Dodger Stadium, exchanging jokes and gossip and hope.

When Jensen died in the spring of 2006 at 17, McCourt attended Jensen's memorial service.

Today at Dodger Stadium, McCourt will honor all those who must fight Jensen's fight, announcing the largest charitable campaign by a pro sports team in the city's history.

Think Cure will debut as the Dodgers' first official charity, charged with raising funds for cancer research at partners City of Hope and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

At an afternoon news conference in the stadium club, in direct contrast to the cynicism swirling around Barry Bonds' home run chase below, the Dodgers will launch a charity they hope will eventually consume a city in the manner of the Boston Red Sox's celebrated Jimmy Fund.

"We could win seven world championships, and Think Cure has the chance to be bigger than all of them combined," McCourt said.

"This is not about me or the Dodgers, it's about the community."

Dodgers fan will notice the push immediately, from signs on the outfield wall to television announcements by Vin Scully to a redecoration of the hills beyond the outfield parking lot, where the giant "Think Blue" is temporarily being changed to "Think Cure."

"Just as the community owns the Dodgers, we want the community to own this charity," McCourt said.

Even casual sports fans associate the Red Sox with the Jimmy Fund, whose sign is a familiar part of the Fenway Park background, and which has raised about $500 million in its 59 years in New England.

McCourt, whose grandfather helped start that fund, hopes to duplicate that here.

"Cancer is a family disease, and baseball is a family sport, so the connection is natural," said Stephen Forman, an oncologist at City of Hope. "The Dodgers brand name has a way of unifying Southern California in a way that can benefit the entire country."

Reed Jensen, father of Christopher, said he was not surprised that McCourt has broadened his scope.

"There is no way to express our thanks for what he did for our son," said Jensen, an Ojai postal worker. "All through their friendship, Mr. McCourt kept saying that Christopher gave him so much more."

McCourt owns the original Jimmy Fund ceramic baseball bank. He said he has always wanted to copy that effort, but needed to establish credibility here first.

"I always thought the Jimmy Fund was possible here, it just had to be the right time," McCourt said. "With the size and wealth of this marketplace, it can be off the charts."

Former Dodgers will be working booths today to accept initial donations for Think Cure, with the first $1 million of donations to be matched by the McCourt family.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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