A charitable organization that has helped dozens of Little League baseball teams throughout the state has reached another milestone.
Arizona Baseball Charities, which will play its annual Molina Fine Jewelers Celebrity Baseball game at Scottsdale Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 29, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is set to surpass the $2 million mark in support that it has given to Little League teams over the years.
As nearly 50 former Major Leaguers, including Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and a handful of former Arizona Diamondbacks take the field, 36 Little League teams - six from the East Valley - each will receive $300 for bringing 50 people or more to the game where a crowd of about 7,000 is expected.
Ten teams also will receive $1,000 each through a drawing, and one team will win the grand prize of $5,000 - a hefty sum that could build a field, provide gloves for players on a team, buy a portable pitcher's mound, or be set aside as seed money to help benefit a team in the future.
The game, which begins at 1 p.m. may be the centerpiece, but it's hardly the only activity involved with the event. CrossFit Scottsdale is sponsoring its third annual Run for Kids as a precurser to the game, and a raffle will also take place for an Arizona Cardinals jersey autographed by Pat Tillman.
Gates open at 11 a.m. - that's when the Run for Kids kicks things off - and there will be a free gift given to the first 1,000 kids 16-and-under through the gate.
"Times are tough, but we always find a way to help," said Arizona Baseball Charities Executive Director Buddy Schultz, a former Major League pitcher who holds the NCAA strikeout record for one game with 26 of the 27 batters he faced as a pitcher for Miami (Ohio) University in 1971. "It's for a good cause and to keep kids playing baseball."
"One time a lady from a poor area of Arizona told me thank you for helping to provide a glove for her son," Schultz added. "When he got the glove, he held up both of his hands because he didn't know which hand to put the glove on. Things like that is why we do this. It gives you a good feeling and it helps kids to learn how to play and enjoy baseball. It teaches them values."
Admission to the game is free, and those in attendance are encouraged to eat at the concession stand inside the ballpark as 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit more teams in the future.
East Valley Little League organizations that will benefit from the charity this year include the Ahwatukee Little League, Mountainview Little League, Red Mountain National Little League and Queen Creek Little League.
The roster of players, who will be on teams designated as the American or National League, reads like the names one might find in a shoebox full of old baseball cards retrieved from the bedroom closet.
Perry - who won 314 games during his 22-year career with 3,534 strikeouts, will pitch an inning or two for the American League team against three-time World Champion and Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch of the National League team. Welch is perhaps best known for his years with the Los Angles Dodgers in the 1980s before he won 27 games in one season in 1990 when he pitched for the Oakland A's.
Other former players participating in the game include All-Star Dave Kingman who played for the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs and finished his career with 442 home runs, pitcher Lee Smith, a Hall of Fame candidate who is third on the all-time saves list with 478, and former D-Backs Jeff Bajenaru, Albie Lopez and Elvin Nina.
Valley residents Byron Brown Sr., who played for the Chicago Cubs, Kory DeHaan, who played for the San Diego Padres, Tony Phillips, former catcher Duffy Dyer and Jack Heidemann also will play in the game.
Baseball is a great game," Schultz added. "We all were a part of it. Why not give back?"