Over the past two years at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the Hartford Yard Goats (Class AA; Eastern League) have focused on increasing outreach by developing unique community programs. Because of these programs, the Yard Goats are the winner of the 2018 Ballpark Digest Commitment to Charity Award.
In partnership with Aetna, the Yard Goats opened the Aetna Community Center last August. The team has also launched several community programs, which serve a major role in its outreach efforts.
“It started in 2017 and the programs were in the off-season which would be about this past September or October,” said Tiffany Young, the Yard Goats director of community partnerships. “These programs came about from thinking outside of the box and figuring out ways to use this beautiful ballpark to engage the community.”
Several initiatives were started, including the culinary arts program, dance team, the youth performing arts program, and the Young Ambassadors program. All of these programs have one big element in common: local youth.
“One thing that I’ve found is that the best way to engage with the community is to start with the youth and developing some programs in order to attract these young people to the ballpark,” Young said. “We understand that every young person, every community, and every culture isn’t necessarily into baseball, but how can we at least get them to Dunkin’ Donuts Park and get them thinking that it’s more than baseball.”
Road to Success: Local Partnerships
Partnering with local businesses has helped make these programs successful.
“Everything starts with a conversation and building relationships thinking of how we can partner together,” Young said. “We try to expose these kids to different career opportunities and instilling in them that at the end of the day, they can do this too.”
Through these programs, the Yard Goats have partnered with local chefs and restaurant owners for kids to learn how to cook and how to run a successful business, a local dance studio that helps runs dance team auditions and coaches the team, a local professional stage company that helps kids create and put on a show, and with local businessmen and women to help teach and mentor kids in the Young Ambassadors program. Of all the endeavors, Young said the performing arts program has a soft spot in her heart.
“I was personally invested in that program because I have a background in performing arts and I know the impact that that can have on young people. Who in their right mind would think that a baseball team would host or even be involved with something like performing arts,” Young said with a laugh. “But the stage company is literally walking distance from the ballpark so to me it absolutely made sense. It was another opportunity to bring people to the ballpark, utilize the Aetna Community Center and open their minds to something new.”
Through the performing arts program, the participants put on their first show in the community center surrounded not only by their friends and families but also by Yard Goats’ staff.
“These kids did a phenomenal job and many of them took the stage for the first time. We converted the community center into a small, intimate theater and invited people from the community, our staff, their friends, and family,” Young said. “The performance they did this last year, they created it, wrote it, and performed it. The theme was community.”
The flagship program at the community center is the Young Ambassadors program. Twenty-five students were selected from local high schools to participate in the career development program but also focusing on college readiness, job readiness, and the professional workplace.
“It also gives us a chance to introduce them to Minor League Baseball and open their minds to career opportunities in Minor League Baseball that are right in their backyard,” Young said.
More on the Way
The Yard Goats are looking to continue expanding their community programs. So what’s next?
“We are looking to add a fitness program and partnering with companies in the community to bring kids out here for them to learn about health from the physical aspect and what is means to be healthy,” said Young. “That’s a very big initiative nationally and there’s certainly a need for it.”
With all of the new programs and opportunities for kids, what has the community thought of everything the Yard Goats are doing in Hartford?
“I think that the community has been taken by surprise but in a good way because we are absolutely doing what we said we would do which is partnering with and serving our community,” Young said. “The response has been very positive. I’m very big on whenever you plant yourself in the community, you have to interweave yourself in the community as an organization. It’s important to get into the grassroots of the community and make a difference because it’s the community that at the end of the day supports us.”
Three teams are being recognized with an Honorable Mention in this category.
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League) have long made community outreach a priority, and that commitment was evident in 2018. Since 2013, the club has partnered with Backpack Buddies, a local charitable organization that feeds 3,000+ kids every week who would otherwise go hungry, and this year expanded on the results of that program with the help of a sponsor, Lowes Foods. “We’re always honored to be recognized by Ballpark Digest,” said Pelicans general manager Ryan Moore. “We pride ourselves on being more than a baseball team and positively effecting our community. Each year the Pelicans have a quarter million dollar goal when it comes to go giving back to the Grand Strand community through our Play It Forward Campaign. I’m happy to say that the goal has been exceeded each year since the program’s inception in 2013 with more than $2 million in total give back.”
This season, the Oklahoma City Dodgers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) partnered with Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation to create the OKC Dodgers Rookie League. The Rookie League expanded opportunities for youth baseball participation in the city, while minimizing costs by providing baseballs, bats, catcher’s gear, and coaches resources for every team. “The OKC Dodgers Rookie League was created to impact families in our community and create better citizens in Oklahoma City,” said OKC Dodgers president and general manager Michael Byrnes. “The spring league created the opportunity for youth to participate, grow and develop athletic skills and gain confidence critical to success off the field as well. The Dodgers are proud of the success of the league’s first year and confident in the impact it will have for years to come.”
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Class AA; Southern League) expanded their community outreach efforts this year by renovating five little league fields in nearby Century, FL. Several tasks were performed to create better conditions for youth baseball players, including an overhaul of the infield clay, painting of foul poles, weeding, mowing, and trimming. “Our mission at the Pensacola Blue Wahoos is to improve the quality of life in our community,” said Blue Wahoos president Jonathan Griffith. “We strive each day to meet our mission to make Pensacola a great place to live.”