How Baseball Can Save the World: Part One

One year ago, we started Experience Baseball with an idea to improve the quality of life in urban communities through love of baseball.

How far we’ve come in a year is a remarkable story. But it’s not nearly as remarkable as where we’re going.

Time to Develop

One year ago this week, our idea was to lead bus-tour retreats for baseball fan and corporate groups in MLB cities in order to tell unique baseball stories as continuing education and leadership development. We were going to call these bus retreats “tours;” tours were going to last between 6 and 9 hours.

This idea wasn’t perfect.

First, we couldn’t in the end justify the costs of chartered, executive-grade busses for a full day. Forget any other overhead, transportation alone would have cost more than half of the total costs for a single day’s activities.

Second, nine hours was much too long a time for groups to commit to. Leadership development is indeed something corporate groups look for in a private service. But asking groups to remain on a bus for an entire day was appealing to almost nobody.

Third, logistically, bus tours would have been a nightmare. Somehow registering whole swaths of baseball fans, coordinating drops and pickups, food preferences, conference room and restaurant costs, not to mention anything of the added insurance needs—These were all deeply time-consuming, money consuming, effort consuming projects that deterred us from our goals.

Fourth—and it takes some amount of pride-swallowing to admit this—our idea was too heavy-handed, not to mention disrespectful, voyeuristic, and intrusive. We had planned to demonstrate the critical development needs of communities in diverse, high-density cities by driving straight through them, pointing out their degradation, and discussing what should be done about them. And along the way we’d stop at sites of long-forgotten ballparks, YMCAs, and the childhood homes or gravestones of dead-ball era ball players.

Fifth, we wanted this to be a nonprofit. Because of this requirement, extravagant bus rides proved to be extremely difficult to “sell” by soliciting donations, as so much of the costs had to cover transportation and legal fees.

What we learned quickly enough in the first four months was that the idea by itself couldn’t truly and most effectively support the mission. The idea by itself was not going to make a successful public benefit business.

Making Baseball Philanthropy Simple

Back at the drawing board, our mission remained the same: To improve the quality of life in urban neighborhoods through baseball. We wanted to share and connect resources between baseball and urban communities. And we wanted to tell remarkable and inspiring baseball stories in order to empower women and men to enact greater change and support in baseball neighborhoods.

We began to explore more the practice of grassroots philanthropy. We believe strongly in communities’ rights to determine and name for themselves the issues most affecting their children. And we also see baseball and its fans as possessing significant resources and influence to support better those dedicated men and women on the ground.

Philanthropy combines the love of humanity with tangible assets and benefits to others. Philanthropy is an individual and organizational choice and a privilege.

So rather than continuing with messy, expensive, and burdensome educational tours, we began to devise a way to make it easy for baseball and its fans to give back to baseball communities, to support incredible grassroots development, and to empower young people through love of baseball.

We think we have it.

We determined to make a better public benefit organization by focusing on Simple Giving, Quality Baseball Programming, and Effective Community Relationships.

We’re on a mission, beginning again this year, to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods home to professional baseball. And we will do this by hosting more than 2,700 baseball fans at 100 unique and educational game-day events over the next three summers at big league parks; we will do this by raising more than $100,000 in support of incredible grassroots community youth organizations; and we will do this by providing professional training and experience to dedicated young professionals and students.

All the while, we will offer opportunities to become better fans and to make a difference in our communities. We’ve given ourselves three years to reach these goals.

We will begin in 2014 in the American League Central Division: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. Over the next year we will share our stories about working in these incredible baseball spaces: What we do well, what we learn, what we hope to achieve. We will share everything from development, programming, organizational culture, fundraising, community transformation, marketing, and of course lots and lots of baseball.

We’re on a MISSION to make Baseball Philanthropy Simple to improve the quality of life in urban baseball neighborhoods.

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What is Sports Philanthropy?

Sports. Philanthropy. When standing alone, people understand what these two words mean but what happens when you put them together – Sports Philanthropy? What the heck does that mean?

Sports philanthropy combines the world of sports with the non-profit sector. Everyone knows that philanthropy means, “doing good,” and is associated with charitable monetary donations to areas such as arts, education, housing, health, social welfare, and the environment. The concept is the same when talking about sports philanthropy. Let’s start by defining sports philanthropy…

Sports philanthropy: that emerging sector of corporate philanthropy in which professional sports teams, clubs or leagues donate money, time or other goods in kind to specific causes – such as youth sports, health, economic development, etc.

People currently view professional sports organizations and their philanthropic strategy as a powerhouse with no focus. In the past, these organizations tried to be everything to everyone and therefore fulfilled as many requests that were made of them. The players signed balls and gave them to various charities, which still happens today, but that was the extent of the social good. In a way, this was a positive thing because it got the ball rolling on social responsibility.

 As sports properties have grown in prominence, so has the sentiment that they must do more for the community beyond wins and losses.
- Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal (September, 2009)

These days sports organizations are finding ways to give back to the community in a substantial way. The players feel good about their presence in the community, the fans feel good about what’s going on but most importantly, there are measurable outcomes on how the communities benefit. Teams and individuals can have positive (or negative) effects on society. Sports philanthropy is unique because of the assets and intangible advantages that nonprofit organizations and foundations don’t have.

Assets – cash, tickets, facilities, sponsors, season ticket holders, luxury suite holders, vendors, professional staff, and ownership.

Intangible advantages - the economic development opportunities, employment opportunities, the power of convening, media coverage, and player reputation.

The philanthropic impact that these sport organizations can have on the community is due to theses influential variables. It is clear that enlightened self-interest motivates philanthropy in any organization but when implemented effectively, the benefits can be positive for everyone.

What’s the Difference?

I was lucky enough to attend my second ever Cubs game at Wrigley Field on Sunday. My friend’s dad received tickets from work and graciously gave them to us to watch the Cubs take on the (unfortunately) surging Dodgers. I was rooting for the Cubs because the Diamondbacks are quickly falling behind the Dodgers and needed some help. It was too bad that the Dodgers were able to hold onto a 1-0 lead to clinch their 14th straight away game victory and the Diamondbacks were shutout for only the fourth time this season by the Red Sox.

After helping Experience Baseball put on an event at U.S. Cellular on July 5, I have had the privilege to tour the surrounding area a number of times. I was able to tour the Wrigleyville area for many hours after the game and came to realize how different it was from the area around U.S. Cellular. From the name of the community alone, one can tell that Wrigleyville is more involved with Wrigley than Bronzeville and South Side are involved with U.S. Cellular. These communities are not called Soxville or even Comiskeytown. The former stadium is incorporated into its community, while the latter seems to be completely separate; the former seems to have a thriving economy, while the latter is struggling; the former radiates out blue and red into the surrounding community, while the latter’s colors stop at the gate.

However, a Cubs game is more expensive, on average, to attend than a White Sox game. Along with game costs, rent and housing costs are also much higher in the Wrigleyville area in comparison to Bronzeville. Using Chicago Apartment Finders rent was $500 more for a one-room apartment in Wrigleyville than in Bronzeville. There is a $1000 difference when speaking about a two- or three-room apartment.

Before and after Cubs games there are a multitude of blue and red throughout the community: coming out of apartments, restaurants, and bars. But the Sox colors are limited to the the stadiums vicinity and people walking to US Cellular from the El-stop. There is no festivity or community aspect around White Sox games. And my question is why is that? Why did two teams in the same city develop in such different ways and what can be done to change that? How can we as fans help develop areas such as Bronzeville to Wrigleyville-like standards without pushing the people who have lived there for generations out of their homes?

Trades and the Community

In less than 24 hours is the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Players will come and go, but what happens to their charitable and philanthropic foundations when they move to a different team?

In most cases the foundations move with the players when they are traded, but their foundations leave a lasting impact on the previous community. Here are a few examples of players whose work in one city continues after he has been traded to another team.

Shane Victorino

The “Flyin Hawaiian,” with the help of his wife Melissa Victorino, started the Shane Victorino Foundation in Philadelphia in 2010 for the purpose of youth development, education, and wellness. Victorino was with the Phillies at the time, but has since become a Boston Red Sox. Even though Victorino is now in Beantown, his main project, the Victorino Nicetown Boys and Girls Club, is in an urban underserved area of Philadelphia.  The Victorino Foundation still annually contributes upwards of a million dollars to the facility. In Boston, Victorino established the Flyin Hawaiian Ticket Program, which allows youth organizations to attend Red Sox games. In his native Hawaii, Victorino provides recreational and educational programs for at risk youth, while in Las Vegas the Foundation hosts an annual toy drive and holiday party for children facing poverty and homelessness.

Roy “Doc” Halladay 

While playing with the Blue Jays, Halladay started the “Doc’s Box” program, which gave sick children and their families at the Sick Kids Hospital, the second largest children’s hospital in North America, the opportunity to see a Blue Jays game from a suite at the Rogers Centre. In 2009 Halladay went to the Phillies but the suite known as Doc’s Box continued on as part of the Blue Jays Care Foundation. As a member of the Blue Jays, Halladay in his contract had $100,000 annually go to a charitable organization along with his work with the Sick Kids Hospital. This work in Toronto, lead him to create the Halladay Family Foundation when he became a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, which aims at giving back and serving the community in a variety of ways.

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders and his wife Shanel Saunders wanted to help underserved youth in whatever community they were a part of, so while Joe was with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 the Saunders began Team Saundo, a non-profit organization aimed at improving the lives of kids. Team Saundo continued its work when Joe Saunders was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 with the commitment to “Help fulfill the community needs of the Phoenix area with a focus on childhood education, well-being & empowerment through sports.” Saunder left a lasting impact and the Diamondbacks still continue on some of his philanthropic work, like Team Saundo backpack day. No matter where Joe Saunders has gone, Team Saundo has been a large part of his career. Now with the Seattle Mariners Saunders and his wife have continued their work in the greater Seattle area as well.

 

So whether or not your favorite player gets traded, know that it is examples like these that show the game of baseball and the great fans of baseball can be a driving force behind lasting change in the community.

Kansas City: Baseball for Education

According to NeighborhoodScout’s analysis of FBI reported crime data in 2011, Kansas City has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, with a person having a one in 84 chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime. Experience Baseball held an event on June 25th at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in order to raise awareness for the Kansas City, Kansas Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities program (KCKRBI), so that kids in underserved urban areas will have baseball as an outlet in their lives.

Kansas City is a baseball landmark at the crossroads of America. It was the original home of the Athletics and the historic Monarchs, and is now home to the Royals and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. With all of this baseball history KCK RBI wants to bring the game to all of Kansas City’s youths.

So far this year, there have been 76 homicides in the greater Kansas City area with 36 of the victims being between the ages of 0-30 with over 60% being black (HomicideKC). In May 2012, Dewanna O-Guinn spoke of her 20 year old son, Ashton, who was shot and killed in Kansas City, “He was the apple of my eye, my oldest of three,  college student, fun loving, big heart, give his last to whomever needed it,” she said. “… He was a full time college student, he carried 3.5 GPA.  He loved his family, never been in trouble prior to. You can’t just judge a book by its cover.” At the end of 2012, Kansas City closed the year with 157 homicides with 23 homicides per 100,000 residents, the second-highest murder per capita rate in the midwest behind East St. Louis and seventh overall in the country (Kansas City Star). Like Kansas City resident, Yael T. Abouhalkah, said in the Kansas City Star, “On a national scale, it’s embarrassing that Kansas City is lumped in with other cities that have gained notoriety for their high crime rates, such as Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Atlanta, Cleveland and Buffalo.”

Part of the MLB’s initiative to reach out to urban areas, often with black and hispanic backgrounds, a long-running program in Kansas City, Success Achieved In Future Environments (S.A.F.E.), was granted a charter by MLB in 2009 to be the KCK RBI. It began with a few teams, but now KCK RBI fields eighty-three fully uniformed teams in Kansas City and over one hundred teams in Johnson County in order to bring the great game of baseball to inner-city youth (kckrbi.org).

Experience Baseball works with the Kansas City Kansas Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities program to fulfill our mission of using baseball to improve the quality of life in urban cities home to professional baseball.

Baseball fans, youth development supporters, community organizations, and educational groups can support Experience Baseball and KCK RBI by donating to our cause.

Chicago Wrap

Yesterday was a great day for Experience Baseball and for all of our supporters.  We had an amazing event at US Cellular Field with some awesome people. It was a full turnout and a good mix of fans, baseball historians, professors, college students, coaches, and ball players from Lost Boyz Inc.

This is us setting up our tailgate.

Set Up CrewEB BannerTailgate Setup

More like, our tailgate is now set up and Nick is just waiting for the delicious Uncle John’s BBQ. We had rib tips, hot links, and fries, all covered in some seriously addicting barbeque sauce.

Uncle John's BBQAfter set up, the educational presentation took place in the stadium. Dr. Steven Riess gave a fascinating presentation entitled, “Tales of Two Teams: Ballparks in Chicago and the Integration of Chicago’s Parks,” about baseball and its urban impact in the Windy City.

We worked up quite an appetite listening to Professor Riess and enjoying learning about the inspirational Buck O’Neil from an excellent documentary video on the history of Negro League Baseball in Chicago. The video was produced by the Chicago Baseball Museum. Outside, we feasted on the Uncle John’s BBQ I had mentioned. There were plenty of napkins and I am almost positive every shirt went home relatively clean.

 With the food gone, there was plenty to do: people to talk to, games to be played, and pictures to take.

To finish off the night we went to the game and saw the White Sox beat the Orioles 5-2. Toby was a little disappointed in his O’s, but at least he wasn’t the only Baltimore fan at the game and he was ecstatic we put on such a great event. Thank you for everyone who came out and supported Experience Baseball  and  Lost Boyz Inc.

Here are some pictures of our Chicago group tailgating Experience Baseball style.

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Vonte’s Voice – Joseph Stewart

On Sunday June 17, 2001, Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Tony Womack came up to the plate with bases loaded and a heavy heart. It was Father’s Day and Womack had just lost his father two months prior. Womack had described his father as his best friend, so on that Sunday with bases loaded, Womack hit a grand slam for his best friend. As he rounded the bases you could see the intense emotion of that particular situation. When he stepped on home plate, he was swarmed by his team and he put his head down to wipe the tears away. It was a very powerful moment for Womack, the team, and the fans. In one moment, everyone came together and understood as a whole community the unifying power of baseball.

Joe Stewart, left, and LaVonte Stewart, right, with the inaugural team of Lost Boyz Inc.

Joe Stewart, left, and LaVonte Stewart, right, with the inaugural team of Lost Boyz Inc.

It is not only in Major League games we see this unifying power. We see it too in the people who fight for baseball at every level because they love the game so much and want to see it be enjoyed by everyone. This is true of Joseph Stewart, a co-founder of our Chicago partners Lost Boyz Inc. Joe Stewart was a star pitcher in high school, but was unable to move on to the next level because he was shot and paralyzed. Rather than become bitter, he used his baseball knowledge and began coaching. Eventually he  co-founded Lost Boyz Inc. with LaVonte Stewart and became the Commissioner of the program. Baseball was a source of healing for Joe Stewart and he hoped to pass that healing power onto the kids of Lost Boyz Inc.

After two leg amputations and health issues, Joe Stewart lost his life this past month. His good friend and brother in baseball, LaVonte Stewart tells the story of a brave man and baseball in a post entitled “Dear Joe…” on the Lost Boyz Inc. website. It is an incredibly inspiring story and one which Experience Baseball thinks should be heard. It is people like Joe and stories like his that make us want to share the power of baseball.

 

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