With a winter chill beginning to settle over most of the United States, even the most die-hard baseball supporter could be forgiven for letting football and basketball take center stage while our national pastime slips into hibernation. But while some baseball uniforms may have been temporarily replaced with winter coats, the sport has not been completely forgotten. In fact, fortunately for youth baseball programs across the country and the world, the season of giving has inspired some to step up to the plate to provide children in need with what is necessary to play the game.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, businessman Mike Chase has sacrificed his beloved facial hair in order to help the children of his home town play baseball. On December 2nd, the 61-year-old Chase, vice president of building supply company Eikenhout, shaved the beard he had worn since 1973 as part of a fundraising effort that ended up netting $16,000 for the Inner City Youth Baseball/Softball program of the YMCA. The softball and baseball teams that are part of the program in Grand Rapids will use the money to buy sorely-needed uniforms, equipment and supplies.
Another example has been taking place once a week in our nation’s capital, at the newly-opened Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Members of the George Washington University baseball team have been volunteering there to provide coaching in an afterschool program that aims to teach at-risk children not just the proper way to swing a baseball bat, but how to be a good teammate, develop good study habits and make healthy nutritional choices.
In the first week of December, three members of the Detroit Tigers visited that team’s baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. While they were there, J. D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos and Bryan Holaday took the opportunity to stop by a neighboring orphanage. Representing the Detroit Tigers Foundation, the players donated more than 500 pieces of baseball equipment and 100 T-shirts to the children of the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers) orphanage to support their youth baseball program.
Those seeking to help youth baseball thrive overseas might be surprised to learn of the Baseball United Foundation, a 501 c3 non-profit based in New York created to help grow the game of baseball in Ireland. The organization raises money in the United States through donations and the sale of memorabilia, then uses the funds to purchase and ship baseball equipment across the Atlantic. In August, they sent a 75-pound shipment of baseball bats, baseball gloves, helmets and other equipment to the Cavan Comets, a baseball club in County Cavan, Ireland. The foundation has raised more than $5,000 for baseball programs in Ireland to date, and has conducted youth baseball clinics in Limerick and Dublin.
Although the appeal of baseball is nearly universal, the fact is that the need for equipment can be an obstacle for children who want to play. Unlike basketball, in which two hoops and a ball are the basic necessities, at bare minimum baseball requires a bat, a ball, nine gloves, three bases and home plate to play. Add in baseball uniforms, catchers gear, batting helmets, 18 pairs of cleats and more, and it’s easy to see why youth baseball programs in less affluent areas need help to succeed. These teams require the kindness and generosity of outsiders to survive, let alone thrive. But as long as fans of the sport do what they can to preserve baseball’s future for everyone, the Major League Baseball stars of tomorrow will continue to be found on the fields of Grand Rapids, Washington, the Dominican Republic and, who knows, maybe even Ireland.