Joplin kids to get donated baseball equipment
Most of town's Little Leaguers lost all possessions in tornado
The South Joplin (Mo.) Little League's baseball equipment traveled an estimated 60 miles, and it was not transported via the typical happy caravan of families to a tournament road trip.
It was taken there by the deadliest single U.S. tornado since 1950.
Catching gear, bats, helmets ... everything. Kids' own gloves, cleats, uniforms ... everything. It's all gone, lifted and strewn as rubble that far away. About 250 boys and girls who play in the league -- roughly 75 percent -- lost everything they owned. Youngsters staring at destruction since May 22 want to play baseball, want to smile and dream again.
In the aftermath of such a disaster, such belongings are obviously not the greatest loss. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association recently announced tornado relief efforts to help Heart to Heart International get supplies to survivors of a twister that claimed 138 lives and counting.
In this case in particular, there is also an urgency to follow up that ongoing pipeline of relief supplies with baseball equipment. At the request of nearby resident and former Expos and Red Sox pitcher Dan Smith, Pitch In For Baseball, the non-profit that collects and gives equipment and other assistance to communities in need, made a special three-pallet delivery on Monday to restock the South Joplin ballplayers with some very welcomed commodities. With the equipment in hand, the league expected to resume its scheduled games Tuesday.
Smith wanted to help, and he contacted his former Expos teammate, star pitcher Steve Rogers, who played high school ball in Springfield, Mo. Rogers is now special assistant to MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner, and in that capacity, he has worked with PIFB in the past. Rogers reached out to PIFB executive director David Rhode, who is coordinating with South Joplin Little League president Ryan Wood to send equipment fast.
"We know that the first immediate reaction is all the humanitarian help that needs to take place, and rightfully so," Rhode said. "But we also know we might hear from these folks and we start getting prepared to act quickly. For us, it is incredibly gratifying. It just confirms our belief in the power of baseball. The whole mission of the organization is to help kids and communities in need, and this is sort of a quintessential case of being able to react differently, make a difference and put a smile on kids who have had their lives turn upside down."
"I was amazed at how quickly Pitch In For Baseball could respond to this request," Smith said. "The equipment they are sending will be a huge lift to kids in the Joplin community."
There are two ways baseball equipment was lost. One was the equipment owned by each league, typically kept in some sort of equipment room. Those include catching gear, bats, things shared team to team. Such structures were thrown 60 miles. Second, there was the personal gear of the Little Leaguers themselves. With some three-fourths of the players having lost their homes, there is nothing without the generous support of others at this point.
"In that situation, you've seen the same pictures I have," Rhode said. "People are stumbling around looking for any picture or trinket they can find. For a kid, this becomes his or her first new possession, something he or she can call their own. We think that's extremely important."
Rhode said the equipment from PIFB comes from a combination of sources. Some is donated during the course of a year, a regular flow as individual kids and communities around the U.S. send in gently used or new equipment so it can get into the right hands. As for gloves, Rhode said PIFB purchased the ones headed for South Joplin Little League thanks to financial contributions.
"We use some of the financial contributions to purchase these, because we never have enough gloves relative to what is requested," he said. "We purchased and had them set aside for a special occasion, and most of them are being used for this occasion."
Just as the overall MLB and MLBPA tornado relief efforts also is going to areas heavily affected recently across the South, Rhode said PIFB has been sending equipment to Mississippi and Alabama.
"In this situation, after the storm, we reached out to Little League Baseball and said, 'If you know of any leagues needing assistance, we're here to help,'" Rhode said. "Because a lot of times, they might not know to contact us."