B.A.T.'s charitable mission on display at dinner
Steinbrenner, former Minor Leaguer honored at annual event
NEW YORK -- Gary Caraballo wasn't the most recognizable name -- not even close -- when the Baseball Assistance Team hosted its Going to Bat for B.A.T. dinner on Tuesday.
But the foundation has never been about notoriety, and it was especially evident on a night when B.A.T. commemorated one of sports' most iconic owners, the late George M. Steinbrenner, and a man who never reached the Majors was honored as its biggest beneficiary.
As a professional hitter, Caraballo had the rare ability to locate a 90-mph fastball with his eyes and meet it with the barrel of a bat. But shortly after his playing days were over, that same vision failed him.
And the former 1989 Draft pick of the Royals struggled with a much simpler task.
"Being able to see my daughters," said Caraballo, who spent eight years as a Minor League third baseman but never received a callup, advancing as high as Double-A. "They were 6 and 7 at that time, and now they're 10 and 11, and it was hard. Those four years, I couldn't see them grow."
In 2004, at age 33, Caraballo was diagnosed with a corneal disorder called pellucid marginal degeneration and became blind. Six years later, he miraculously sports 20-20 vision.
Caraballo said it would've been impossible without B.A.T., a Major League Baseball charity devoted to helping members of its extended family when they need it most.
Having nowhere else to turn, Caraballo reached out to B.A.T., which flew him from Puerto Rico to Miami, covered his doctors visits and eventually found an optometrist who created the special corrective lenses that changed his life.
"He's very strong, and the hug you get from a guy like that after B.A.T.'s able to help, it just says it all. It just says it all," B.A.T. executive director Joseph Grippo said. "And if I can somehow convey that to the people who assist and support this program to a small degree of exactly what that means, it's something that I hope to be able to do."
At the foundation's 22nd annual fund-raising dinner, Caraballo was joined by more than a dozen Hall of Famers -- including Hank Aaron, Earl Weaver, Gary Carter, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Bob Gibson and the newly elected Roberto Alomar -- as well as more than 100 other former players, including John Franco, Steve Garvey, Willie Randolph and Darryl Strawberry, to name a few, and roughly 1,200 others in a lavish gathering at the New York Marriott Marquis.
The event helped continue B.A.T.'s charitable mission, gave donating fans the opportunity to interact with some of their heroes, and, perhaps most memorably, looked back on the life of "The Boss."
Several video montages -- one with words from captain Derek Jeter -- profiled the owner who returned baseball's most illustrious franchise to glory.
David Cone stood among more than 30 ex-Yankees and told a story about how Steinbrenner convinced the Mets to put Yankees blue in the visiting clubhouse during the 2000 Subway Series.
Bernie Williams played a slow acoustic version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" while snippets of Steinbrenner's greatest moments were played.
"He was, to me, maybe one of the greatest owners that I saw," said Alomar, who at one point signed a baseball for Steinbrenner saying his biggest regret was never getting the chance to play for him. "One thing with George, he always loved to win. He always gave the opportunity to a team to bring the best players to play for him. And he demands ballplayers to play hard every day. Me, as a professional, I respect that. And I wish I would've played for him."
The dinner, which was presented by Natural Balance Pet Foods and allocated all proceeds to B.A.T., was emceed by Orioles broadcaster and B.A.T. board member Gary Thorne.
Yankees ace CC Sabathia and his wife, Amber, were given the Bart Giamatti Award for starting their PitCCh In Foundation. Former All-Star and executive Bob Watson received the Big B.A.T./Frank Slocum Award for his support of B.A.T, and the Yankees and Dodgers were each presented with the Bobby Murcer Award -- given annually to the team in each league whose players donate the most money to the foundation.
B.A.T. has awarded more than $23 million in grants since being founded in 1986, benefiting more than 2,700 members of the baseball family. Some you know. Others, like Caraballo, you may not.
"If you're to contribute to one charity, B.A.T. is what you want to contribute to," Garvey said.
"You get some kind of catastrophic situation and you don't have the dough, where do you go?" former Mets and Yankees outfielder Ron Swoboda added. "If you're in the baseball family, B.A.T. will step up to the plate."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show', and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.