Former minor league pitcher Dennis Bair didn’t expect missing children to become his life’s work. However, a chance viewing of a documentary one off-season set in motion a chain of events that changed his career trajectory.
Bair was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1995 out of Northeast Louisiana University and spent nine seasons in the minors. It was during his time in the Cubs organization that he got the idea to help missing children.
“One off-season when I was with the Cubs, I was watching a documentary about parents whose daughter was missing and all of the things they tried to do to raise awareness and get their daughter’s photo out there and in front of as many eyes as possible,” Bair said. “As a starting pitcher, we were sent out into the community for community relations activities and I was able to see what kind of impact we can have on the community. That’s when I got the basic idea for the foundation.”
Bair thought to himself that if that family had their daughter’s picture displayed in the ballpark, thousands of eyes would see it and increase her chance of being found. With Minor League Baseball drawing over 40 million fans a season, Bair wondered how many children could be found. With that in mind, he started contacting teams to see what they could do.
“As a player, I started approaching GMs of teams I played for and the GMs of other teams that I knew,” Bair said. “I called them up and asked if we could bring awareness to an area missing kid in the stadium and of course everybody said yes. The more times we did it, the more kids were being found.”
Shoulder surgeries ended Bair’s pitching career but he resolved to continue growing the missing kid’s program eventually establishing the BairFind Foundation which became a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization in 2011. Bair worked with many teams and looked to expand which led to him partnering with the Florida State League, the first league to implement the BairFind concourse signs.
“My father (Chuck Murphy) was league president since 1990, and he received a phone call from Dennis asking if he could speak to him at the winter meetings,” said Florida State League executive assistant Laura LeCras. “He thought it was a great program and it was a simple concept. He knew how many people came to Florida State League ballparks and would see the signs. He was so proud and happy to be the first one.”
Bair kept looking to expand the program and presented the BairFind Foundation at the 2014 winter meetings in San Diego, which attracted the attention of the New York-Penn League president Ben Hayes and South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa. The pair monitored the program’s success in 2015 and brought up the BairFind Foundation during a league presidents meeting that also included executives from the minor league office.
“Ben Hayes from the New York-Penn league and I are both on the minor league baseball charities committee so we were giving our update of philanthropic activity of the clubs and at the end, I just mentioned that there’s another effort growing very organically, that it’s in several leagues already, and explained the concept to the group,” Krupa said. “(Minor league president) Pat O’Conner, who was at the meeting, saw the benefits and connected the dots very quickly and said to look into it because he wanted to help take it industry-wide. That’s when it got its biggest boost.”
Minor League Baseball named the BairFind Foundation a homegrown charity for the 2016 season with A-frame concourse signs being displayed in 139 ballparks as opposed to 40 during the 2015 season. In addition, the signs themselves are made by AMI Graphics, the official sign makers of minor league baseball, after Ed Miles sat in on a BairFind presentation at the winter meetings and wanted to pitch in to help.
The BairFind Foundation is an official photo partner with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children which is based in Washington D.C. This is how they are able to find children in each minor league community to put on the concourse signs.
“They send us profiles of children from each area. We do research and learn the circumstances of the disappearances,” Bair said. “We always try to make sure they are the right person to feature.”
So far the combination of concourse signs and minor league baseball has been a big success. In 2016 alone, over 160 kids have been located due to these signs. When asked about its success, Bair said it’s a mathematical probability more than anything else.
“We put out these signs not with the hope that one will be found but that all of them will be. The power of minor league baseball and the amount of eyes that see those signs make it mathematically possible that many more will be found,” Bair said. “There aren’t faces on milk cartons anymore and we’re hoping this will revolutionize the search for missing kids in America. We feel like we’ve taken that step.”
Even with the foundation’s overall success, Bair said there is still work to do.
“We are looking for corporate sponsors to help us grow our program. Our goal is to be in every stadium in every sport which I think is definitely achievable.”
Image of BairFind Foundation A-frame sign taken at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium on August 28, 2016.
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