RBI programs hit by floods helped by 'Pitch In'
Organization donates equipment so games can go on
About two weeks ago, when Reggie Whittemore drove his pick-up truck through about five feet of water to reach one of his Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities facilities in Nashville, Tenn., he maneuvered his way toward a storage facility that houses loads of precious baseball equipment and prepared for the worst.
Unfortunately, his rationale was justified.
Youth baseball, apparently, wasn't immune to the treacherous flash floods in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi that left thousands homeless and more than 20 dead after two days of record rainfall.
When Whittemore opened that storage-unit door, he found equipment for about 10 teams submerged in six feet of water.
"Mildewed" was the word he used to describe what had become of baseballs, helmets, gloves, bats, uniforms and even lawn mowers in the facility near the Cumberland River.
"It looked like it had just been sitting in water and it's turning brown and has mold on it, that kind of thing," the Nashville RBI executive director said. "It was unusable. You wouldn't want to put that on a kid's head, or try to wash it and put it on some kid's back."
Luckily, though, help ended up being a phone call away.
Whittemore reached out to Pitch In For Baseball -- an organization that collects donations of new or gently used baseball equipment and distributes it to those in need -- and soon enough, he'll receive a new shipment of equipment, free of charge, to get his kids playing again.
"What they're doing, I think, is great," Whittemore said. "Them pitching in and helping out like this, it's pretty awesome. Of course, we want to thank them for that. That's something that's very much needed. We'll be able to put the uniforms back on these kids and get them out there to play.
"We need to get back on the field."
The Nashville RBI program had only been able to play three games in three weeks as of Thursday. But PIFB was able to account for pretty much everything on Whittemore's wish list in hopes of increasing that rate.
The list included: lots of baseballs -- "as many as you can," Whittemore said in an e-mail to the organization -- 10 sets of catcher's gear, approximately 125 uniforms, about 40 bats and 50 gloves, first-aid kits, cleats and helmets.
The donation is a sizeable one, but not the biggest in PIFB's five-year history.
The program helped out several youth baseball leagues that suffered through Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. And it has donated to 65 different countries and more than 250 communities in the U.S., impacting more than 70,000 young baseball players.
In February, the company announced it had shipped its 100,000th piece of equipment since its founding in 2005.
"We reach into the grab bag and see what we have," said executive director and founder David Rhode, who added that the company gets more than 300 requests for equipment per year.
"At the right time, we come in and make sure that if there's a youth baseball organization, or more than one, that needs assistance, we want them to know that if their stuff got, kind of, washed away, that we want to be able to make sure that those kids in that community, kind of, get back on their feet and get back to playing baseball and softball, and doing the kinds of things that they enjoy doing."
The ravaged RBI facility in the MetroCenter area of Nashville is one of four in the state and the only one that sustained major damage, as the area continues to try to recover from an enormous amount of damage.
Next week, a new pallet of fresh baseball equipment will arrive at Whittemore's baseball facility, thus allowing RBI to continue its mission of spreading the game to inner-city youths, who ordinarily wouldn't have the means to play it.
Chalk up another satisfied PIFB costumer.
"When they receive this stuff from us, they are blown away by our generosity, but our generosity is really just an extension of the generosity of people that have helped us," Rhode said. "We're kind of reminded on a regular basis, and we feel very privileged to be in this spot to be able to help people on a regular basis. We love sports, we love baseball, and we love giving kids access to the game, and it kind of tears us apart when there's a group that can't play, and the only reason they can't play is they don't have equipment -- something that most of us took for granted when we were growing up."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.