Baseball Provides Unexpected Patch to the Eroded Safety Net in Our Communities
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
I didn’t listen to everything my dad told me, but I never forgot those rules. Perhaps the rules were my dad’s self-serving attempt to make sure he actually got to enjoy the game with his young daughter in town. As a parent now, it doesn’t seem like a stretch.
But having those rules meant that I was there to watch the game and grow to love it.
Baseball's Safety Net
The spring after that first baseball game with my dad, I tried out for softball. I was in fourth grade and I think I even took a ball to the face in tryouts, but I was in. I was going to be a ballplayer.
Little did I know that softball would also be a refuge for me in an increasingly unstable home with my mother.
In fact, in the spring of fifth grade, just as softball season was starting up again, my 15 year-old sister went to court to have us removed from my mother’s home and we were placed in foster care with a relative.
There were few constants in my life over the next few years — except every spring when I would suit up to play ball.
There was never a time when baseball wasn’t a touchstone in my life. My first jobs were in baseball. I met my best friend because of baseball. I went to spring training for my honeymoon. I joined the board of an Oregon nonprofit called Friends of Baseball that helps kids have access to the game.
And when I had my son, I dreamed of the day he would play.
The season before he would start kindergarten, I signed my son up for T-Ball. And when we showed up at our first practice and met the other kids on his team, we realized a good number of them would be attending the same school as him. A lightbulb went on for me about how sports connects families.
I realized how baseball provides a patch to an eroded social safety net in our communities. And how I had been one of those kids that needed that safety net.
This past season, the board of Friends of Baseball developed a pilot scholarship program called Diamond Dreams. We asked the leagues and teams we work with to nominate players for scholarships. The stories we received were inspiring and humbling all at once.
But one story stuck with me. It was from a young boy's grandparents.
"I am writing this letter seeking assistance to help pay for my six-year-old grandson to play T-ball. My wife and I take care of him full time because unfortunately both of his parents are incarcerated."
All they wanted was for him to have a positive activity to engage in during this difficult time. I couldn’t help but think about all the other kids like this one who didn’t send in a request but want to play. And this story was just one example. We had requests come in from single moms, recent immigrants, and families with parents who were unemployed or who had recently experienced a long-term illness.
We all know, the need is great. According to a report by ESPN last year, 3.5 million kids across the country will lose access to sports in the next decade. They also found that money is the single biggest factor in how soon a child plays a sport. And we know that children who play sports are more likely to finish high school and go on to college.
I know, very personally, the difference that baseball and softball can make in a kid’s life.
After reading the stories of these families, I thought: “Who am I not to repay my debt to the game?” After four years on the board of Friends of Baseball, I was named the new executive director to help us advocate full time for kids across Oregon and Southwest Washington.
We like to say “Baseball Builds Community” because helping kids have access to play isn’t about developing competitive athletes. It’s about developing good neighbors and involved citizens who help build healthy communities.
We know that sports and, from our perspective, baseball are powerful tools for creating opportunity.
Nova Newcomer is the executive director of Friends of Baseball. Serving as executive director fulfills her personal passion to bring the dream of playing baseball and the important connections it creates to more of our state’s youth. Nova is active in the community, serving on a number of boards. She has a son who plays Little League and a daughter who requests baseball books at bedtime.