Nonprofit sends little-league gear to Sandy-ravaged Shore

Jennifer Martin and sons Benjamin, 7, and Matthew, 5, pass donated helmets. "A lot of homes lost everything down here," a league official said.
Jennifer Martin and sons Benjamin, 7, and Matthew, 5, pass donated helmets. "A lot of homes lost everything down here," a league official said. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 08, 2013

LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. - Opening Day had all the usual signs of a good time for youth baseball and softball for the Bay Shore Athletic Association here Saturday.

The weather was nice - 50s and sunny - the mayor threw out the first pitch, teams raced onto the field for the opening ceremony, "Call Me Maybe" boomed from the loudspeakers, and volunteers grilled burgers and franks.

But there was something extra this year: boxes full of free helmets, gloves, hats, cleats, and other equipment donated by a Harleysville, Pa., nonprofit that is helping youth leagues affected by Hurricane Sandy.

About 30 families that participate in the leagues in this Ocean County town were displaced from their homes, many of them on lagoons or bay-front properties, but the kids are still playing baseball and softball, said Buddy DeMilio, the baseball association's president.

"One kid showed up to try out - his glove was black from mold," said Dane Apgar, a league official. "A lot of homes lost everything down here."

The association, of course, couldn't fix those larger problems, but it did want to enable as many youngsters as possible to play this season. So it reached out to the nonprofit Pitch in for Baseball, which has donated $200,000 worth of equipment to about 10,000 youngsters in New Jersey and New York.

"Many of these activities like youth sports are the last thing to get any attention in a situation like that because people tend to focus - rightfully so - on the bigger-picture things: the big infrastructure in the community, jobs, and homes," said David Rhode, founder and executive director of the group, which in the past has provided baseball equipment to communities in Joplin, Mo., where a tornado killed more than 100 people in 2011, and in Japan, which was devastated by a tsunami and earthquake the same year.

"But if you're a 9- or 10-year-old kid, your world might be so simple as, 'What about my game next week?' " Rhode said. "The opportunity to do that very normal activity, we've learned, is a huge part of the healing process for communities at large and kids in particular."

Pitch in for Baseball has a big-league connection - its president is former shortstop Roy Smalley, who played for the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins.

In March, the group drove a half-truckload of equipment, which DeMilio estimated was worth $10,000, to the sports complex here in Little Egg Harbor. The association had already distributed equipment to families in need and plenty more was available Saturday to anyone who wanted it, including those who simply could not afford it.

"You don't want your kids to miss out on something because of the expense of equipment," said Danese Gardine, whose 5-year-old son, Anthony, was searching for the right-size cleats and helmet Saturday to get ready for tee ball.

The association also reduced the fees for playing by 25 percent and waived them for some families altogether, DeMilio said.

Near the end of softball practice Saturday, Gianna Smith, 10, was taking batting practice with a new bat and helmet.

Her father, Ricky Brown, looked on happily. "It's good," he said of the donations. Without them, he said, "it wouldn't be how it is now."

Contact Andrew Seidman at or 856-779-3846 or @AndrewSeidman.

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