During a time of need, the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low A; Midwest League) stepped up in a big way to help flood relief efforts, earning the 2019 Commitment to Charity Award in the annual Ballpark Digest awards.
“This, to me, is the most important award that any club in Minor League Baseball could ever win, because this is, to me, the essence of what Minor League baseball is,” said River Bandits owner Dave Heller. “Planting strong roots in your community and giving back to make that community an even better place.”
Over the years the River Bandits have established a strong track record of philanthropic efforts, from annual college scholarships via the Bandit Scholars Program to donating proceeds from the amusements at Modern Woodmen Park to the Genesis Health Services Foundation. That commitment shows in the fact that the River Bandits have been recognized by Ballpark Digest on two separate occasions for their charitable efforts—first in 2015, then again in 2017—but the 2019 season saw the organization rise to meet an unprecedented challenge.
From March through May, the Quad Cities region—Davenport, IA in particular—grappled with flood water higher than ever previously recorded, cresting at its highest point of 22.7 feet (.07 feet higher than the previous record). As a result, the River Bandits lost 20 home games at Modern Woodmen Park. During that span, the team played as a home team in other Midwest League ballparks, as well as the University of Iowa, and, in one instance, could not play at all.
Once the team was back at Modern Woodmen Park for good, however, the focus shifted to giving back to the community. In addition to volunteering hours on the part of ownership and staff, the River Bandits collected monetary donations for flood relief from fans from all home games through June and the first week of July. These donations were matched by the River Bandits and Genesis Health System, the team’s frequent partner on charitable efforts. The result was a total donation contribution of $101,000 for flood relief in the Quad Cities, a mark that the team worked quickly to achieve.
“There was no way that we were going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves during this time,” Heller said. “We thought it was more important than ever that we move quickly, step up, and help out this great community in Quad Cities that we love so much and we call home.”
Teaming with Genesis on the effort was a natural move for the River Bandits, given that the two organizations have successfully partnered on charitable endeavors for years.
“They represent the best of the Quad Cities,” said Heller. “They are a very philanthropic group, and I share their passion for making our community healthier and stronger. That is why we partner together on so many different initiatives, not the least of which is providing free flu shots for every child in the Quad Cities. Having done that for so many years, you build up a sense of not just trust and comfort, but also comradery. It was easy for us to just come together on the flood relief project.”
Heller credited Doug Cropper, the President and CEO of Genesis Health Systems, for setting the tone for the fundraising effort. It was Cropper who came up with the initial goal of $100,000, ultimately setting up an ambitious push to give back to the community.
“That’s really a testament to Doug and to the people at Genesis, and his leadership,” Heller said. “He really set that goal himself, and he was determined that we get there, and he embedded that determination in us, his determination became contagious. As we kept creeping up closer and closer to that number, we all became that much more determined that we would get to $100,000 and of course we ended up doing $101,000.”
The $101,000 figure was reached on August 7, when the River Bandits came up with a creative way to add to the donation. During a home game, 10-year-old Adam Smith was given three baseballs to throw at a dunk tank, with the goal of sinking Davenport City Councilman Mike Matson. Matson was sunk on the third throw, resulting in an additional $1,000 from the River Bandits and an enthusiastic reaction from the fans at Modern Woodmen Park.
“The place exploded; it was fabulous,” Heller recalled. “Everyone could see it on the videoboard, and he went in and everyone just started cheering. It was one of those great moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. And kudos to Mike Matson for being willing to do that, too.”
Ultimately, the effort would not have been possible with the contributions of the team’s fans. The willingness that the River Bandits fans showed to donate to the relief efforts certainly stood out to Heller and the rest of the organization, who felt that their contributions were a catalyst in driving the effort.
“To see so many people do that and do it in such big numbers with such tremendous generosity, it really is one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Heller said. “It really speaks to what a special place the Quad Cities really is, and why I’m so proud to call the Quad Cities home.”
When asked if there was a lesson that he and the River Bandits would take away from this experience, Heller noted the unity that the community showed during the flood relief efforts.
“The lesson was how important it is for all of us to work together,” he said. “That our community is so much stronger when we band together than when we just worry about ourselves and try to do things alone. The stories I can tell, the endless incidents of selfless giving of time, of money, of resources, loaning boats, shuttling people around during the flooding—it is really something I will never forget, and speaks to why the Quad Cities is such a special place.”
Best Ballpark Improvement (Under $1M): Calfee Park Party Deck
MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Marty Brennaman
Best New Logo/Branding: Fayetteville Woodpeckers
Best New Food Item: Crabzilla, Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Best New Concessions Experience: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Jesse Goldberg-Strassler
Promotion of the Year: Funko Fridays
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): City of Baseball Museum
Ballpark of the Year: Las Vegas Ballpark
Team of the Year: Las Vegas Aviators
Best Ballpark Renovation: American Family Fields of Phoenix