Events — 26 January 2012
Mays, Koufax, and the Mets Unite for The B.A.T. Annual Fundraiser

Blog: MLB's 23rd Annual B.A.T. Fundraiser Dinner

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Not every Major League Baseball player is fortunate enough to be presented with a $214 million dollar contract. Not every ballplayer is represented by super agent Scott Boras. In fact, there are countless stories of career minor leaguers who come up to the big leagues for a cup of coffee, before being sent back down, never having the opportunity to return again. Not having the opportunity to have their pensions vest. Not being able to secure health insurance for themselves or their families. Not making enough money to live comfortably. Certainly not cashing in the like household names of the baseball players we relish. The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) is a charitable organization that provides assistance to these players. Players like former Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ricky Stone, a brain cancer survivor after a fifteen year mostly minor league career and his wife Tracey, stricken with stage three ovarian cancer just after Ricky was given a clean bill of health. But with the assistance of B.A.T., both were provided the medical care they so gravely needed, and both made it out to Manhattan’s Marriott Marquis on Tuesday night, honored to speak on behalf of B.A.T.’s 23rd Annual Fundraiser.

The evening would be a memorable celebration for players and fans alike, with the ultimate goal of adding to the organization’s fundraising totals. B.A.T.’s efforts have already spanned some 27 years, raising more than $25 million in grants and health care, aiding in the rehabilitation of 2,800 former players and their families, just like Ricky and Tracey Stone. The tremendous cause was only part of the reason that ardent fans were willing to shell out upwards of $700 to attend the special evening, framed around a full dinner and ceremony over three hours long, honoring some of the finest baseball players of the last century and the 50th Anniversary of the New York Mets.

First, fans were invited into a special cocktail hour. Equipped with a lavish food spread and full open bar, each avid fan was handed a baseball upon entering the ballroom to be signed by one of the countless players sitting at designated autographed tables. Others were simply standing around, chatting casually with each other in between photo opportunities with fans. Former Mets & Yankees like Gary Sheffield, Al Leiter, John Franco, Goose Gossage, Jim Leyritz, Sid Fernandez, Howard Johnson, and Rusty Staub, joined the likes of Cecil Fielder, Jim Palmer, and Sandy Koufax at the autograph tables, while Carlos Beltran, Gaylord Perry, David Cone, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez remained interspersed at tables around the ballroom. Needless to say, autograph lines became lengthy, but the satisfaction of meeting an all-time-great far exceeded any prior frustrations.

Once the cocktail hour had concluded, fans were invited up to the posh sixth floor ballroom for a massive banquet, befitting of royalty. With a major leaguer or Hall of Famer seated at each table, attendees could be seen chatting the proverbial ears off of each ballplayer between each served course. Orioles play-by-play man Gary Thorne joined Mets broadcaster Ron Darling to emcee the evening- the highlight of which opened the ceremonial dinner by welcoming 15 Hall of Famers to the stage. While the wheelchair-ridden Ralph Kiner stayed nearby, the stage was a literal who’s who of baseball’s illustrious history. Cepeda. Gossage. Marischal. Morgan. Niekro. Palmer. Perry. Perez. Aparaicio. Schmidt. Koufax. Seaver. And finally, “The Say-Hey Kid” himself, Willie Mays, who captivated the live crowd for ten minutes recalling his initial perceptions of New York and San Francisco, and how “The Catch” has been so infinitely revered as the pinnacle of his incredible baseball career.

The remainder of the nearly three plus hour celebration saw Cardinals’ outfielder Carlos Beltran receive the Bart Giamatti Award for his efforts in rejuvenating young Puerto Rican baseball players by building a school in his native country and Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones receive the Frank Slocum Award for his unparalleled efforts in the Baltimore community. The Dodgers, represented by a video from GM Ned Coletti, and the Yankees, accepted in person by Manager, Joe Girardi, were presented with the prestigious Bobby Murcer Award for raising the most money for B.A.T. during the prior season’s spring training, via player payroll deductions. Both franchises were accepting for the second consecutive year. The Yankees had actually made it three in a row.

With an evening built around the New York Mets, B.A.T. surprisingly unveiled upwards of 50 different former players and managers from the storied franchise, with some from the 1969 and 1986 World Series Championship teams, all standing on risers behind the stage curtain. The stage made for a fantastic photo opportunity for fans. In between some pre-recorded video pieces and award presentations, Thorne and Darling would engage different Mets players from each generation, discussing some of their fondest memories from their playing days in Flushing. Perhaps the most poignant of all was a video tribute to former Mets catcher and member of the 1986 World Series team, Gary Carter, recently diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. Thorne’s moment of silence for reflection and subsequent video package highlighting the Hall of Famer’s career was especially touching, considering so many of his former teammates were on hand on this night.

With an outpouring of support from so many Major League players from past and present, Tuesday night’s festivities managed to serve as a celebration of the game and its many personalities, but also as a reminder of the extraordinary charitable work that the B.A.T. organization is doing to help its pool of former players. The continued support of players and fans was never more evident than during the live auction portion of the evening as YES announcer Michael Kay stood at the podium accepting pricey bids from around the room- from trips to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl to a dinner at Rao’s in New York (won by former Met Rusty Staub). Although the ticket prices were lofty, the support for the cause was unwavering and before the evening had finally concluded, the anonymous text donation of $100,000 sent the hundreds in attendance home incredulous, astonished at what they’d just been a part of. Sounds like the same feeling we get after watching the prowess displayed by these incredible athletes in a nine inning game.

For more information on Major League Baseball’s Baseball Assistance Team program, including how you can make a donation, check out B.A.T..

- Jane Van Arsdale

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