Making a difference in the community is a goal for many professional baseball teams. Very few have attained the success displayed by the owners of the Quad Cities River Bandits in giving back to the community – and that’s why the team’s charity work is cited in this year’s Ballpark Digest Annual Awards.
“We added a charity component to our annual awards because of its importance to so many baseball owners,” said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. “The financial contributions from the Quad Cities River Bandits ownership, both in this year and in 2014, are a model for the rest of the industry – and a clear sign of the team’s commitment to the community.”
“Our charitable giving and deep-seated community involvement help define who we are as an organization,” said River Bandits owner Dave Heller. “A big part of our mission is to give back to this community that we love so much, and we are tremendously grateful to work with such great partners as Genesis Health System and Augustana University to make our charitable dollars have as big an impact here in the Quad Cities as possible. For our charitable works to be so recognized by Ballpark Digest, the most well-read and most often cited publication in our industry, is extremely humbling. This is a great honor that we share with everyone across the Quad Cities!”
The charity work from the Low A Midwest League River Bandits comes in three forms: proceeds from the team’s many amusements donated to Genesis Health Services Foundation, three annual college scholarships via the Bandit Scholars Program, and more generalized giving to the community at large.
For each fan who rides one of the amusements at Modern Woodmen Park, the River Bandits contribute 50 cents to the Genesis Health Services Foundation to benefit Genesis Neonatal Intensive Care Units. All in, the River Bandits are, for the second year in a row, donating $50,000 to fund the Neonatal Intensive Care Units – a total of $100,000.
In November 2014, the River Bandits made their first $50,000 donation – including a portion of proceeds from each of 68,000 rides of the new amusements at Modern Woodmen Park – to benefit Genesis Health Services Foundation health initiatives for children, including the Flu-Free Quad Cities campaign, Camp Genesis for kids who have someone close to them with cancer and Genesis Neonatal Intensive Care services to help struggling newborn babies.
This season’s donation is among more than 700 donations throughout the Quad Cities by the River Bandits organization, which has donated $250,000 throughout the Quad Cities this season and more than $1.2 million over the last six seasons. Included in that figure is more than $60,000 each year towards funding tuition for three area young people attending college. The Bandit Scholarships are open to current high school or home-schooled seniors in the region, and the recipients are selected by a committee made up of community leaders, River Bandits ownership and staff and volunteers of the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend (CFGRB), which administers the scholarships.
“Making a difference in the community is the goal of every great pro baseball team, and the River Bandits put that into practice every day of the year,” Reichard added.
Other notable charity efforts of the 2015 season:
- The Omaha Storm Chasers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) set an all-time record in charitable giving for the third consecutive year. The organization donated $686,137 to local charities in 2015. The total represents a $127,404 increase to the previous record set last year (up 18.6%). Nine of the 25 programs saw an increase in fundraising totals which also included four new initiatives. The 2015 First National Bank Triple-A All-Star Game at Werner Park put a national spotlight on the Omaha Metro this summer. In total, $12,304 was raised over two events preceding the game.
- The Williamsport Crosscutters (short season A; NY-Penn League) came out with limited-edition Cutters Pet Jerseys in a fundraising effort for the Lycoming County SPCA. The team wore special jerseys featuring pet photos from Cutters fans along with picture of pets up for adoption from the Lycoming County SPCA. It was all part of Pet Friendly Weekend (July 10-12) with the Crosscutters presented by Pedigree. The weekend will feature special prize giveaways and samples for pet owners and culminate with the Cutters annual Bark in the Park Night on July 12. The game-worn and autographed Pet Jerseys were auctioned off to fans via silent auction with proceeds benefiting the SPCA.
- The Vermont Lake Monsters (short season A; NY-Penn League) created the “Little Lake Monsters” Community All-Star Team, rewarded with a unique experience: living a day in the life of a professional baseball player. First, they were introduced and announced at a press conference at the Free Press Media headquarters (the largest newspaper in Vermont). Each of the kids were presented with their very own custom Vermont Lake Monsters jersey (name and number) and cap, like any big-name free agent would during their introduction. Before the kids were introduced, “Breaking News” came in from the Baseball Tonight desk at ESPN on the video monitor in the room, where Buster Olney first reported the signings. They were signed to a one-day promotional contract with the Vermont Lake Monsters, where the contract was signed by Oakland Athletics Vice President & General Manager, Billy Beane, and Jamie Murphy, of TWC Sports, who represents Major Leaguers such as Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Nick Markakis, Tim Hudson, and Mark Ellis among others, was on hand to sign the agreement and to represent the nine Little Lake Monsters as their sports agent. From the press conference, the kids were transported via limousine to historic Centennial Field, where they took batting practice, were introduced to the crowd and presented with a large promotional check as their “pay for the day.” Their pay of $50 represented the pay for the day of a short-season professional baseball player. They were then asked to choose where to donate their salary via the Vermont United Way. Before the night was over, they all threw out ceremonial first pitches, sat in the dugout and took the field with the Lake Monsters. Lot of hard work went into this promotion, to be sure.
- The Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League) ran the inaugural Philadelphia vs. New York Police Departments charity baseball game at ARM & HAMMER Park. All proceeds from the ticket sales benefited the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Survivors Fund. The Philadelphia Order of Police Survivors Fund is a nonprofit organization that fundraises to provide financial assistance and support to the families of Philadelphia Police officers who have been injured or killed in the line of duty. The Survivors Fund was established not only to remember the sacrifice of each officer but also to acknowledge the sacrifice made by each of the surviving families. The event was executed as a nine-inning game complete with promotions and games in between innings and capped with a “Thunder Blast” fireworks show. The NYPD out lasted the Philadelphia Police Blue Sox in the end and took the inaugural game 15-5.
- The Bowling Green Hot Rods (Low A; Midwest League) reinvigorated the team’s charing program. Through the duration of the past twelve months, the Hot Rods have contributed more than $387,000 dollars in goods and services to the South Central Kentucky community and assisted more than 350 organizations through its various community relations programs. The Hot Rods front office staff and players participated in over 50 community appearances, contributing almost 1,000 hours to local events. The Hot Rods extended a variety of fundraising opportunities to non-profit groups, little leagues and educational entities giving back just shy of $12,000 to 14 organizations. In addition to ticket fundraisers, the Hot Rods hosted four specialty jersey auctions netting $3,633 for local non-profits.
- After the season ended, the four South Carolina Minor League Baseball teams — Charleston RiverDogs, Columbia Fireflies, Greenville Drive and Myrtle Beach Pelicans — jointly raised funds for flood victims across the state in October. Devastating rains and historic flooding hit South Carolina, leading the teams in the state to support and raise money for the flood victims, through the American Red Cross of the Palmetto (S.C.) Region.
PREVIOUS 2015 AWARD WINNERS:
Team of the Year: South Bend Cubs
Executive of the Year: Eric Edelstein
Promotion of the Year: Ambush Baseball, Brooklyn Cyclones
Organization of the Year: Goldklang Group
Best Major Ballpark Renovation: CenturyLink Sports Complex/Hammond Stadium
Best Ballpark Renovation (Over $6M, Under $20M): AutoZone Park
Best Ballpark Renovation (Under $6M): Dr Pepper Ballpark
Best New Food Item: Sweenie Donut Dog
Broadcaster of the Year: Josh Whetzel
Best New Logos/Branding: Daytona Tortugas
Best New Ballpark: CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints