by Jackie Dempsey
It was a hot and muggy Monday morning in July at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It was the All-Star Break in both Major League Baseball and Minor League baseball; a time when players and front office members shut it down for a few days of rest, as they try to recover and get rejuvenated for the second half of the season. I parked my car by the Deluca Little League Field behind the elementary school, and made my way to the Paws Van, a vehicle that the Pawtucket Red Sox use to transport the mascots and
promotional material. Joe Bradlee, our Director of Communications and Community Relations at the Pawsox, had filled the van with bags of dirt and materials to fix up the ballfield. There were 16 volunteers ready to help, eight of my colleagues from the Pawsox and eight new faces I didn’t recognize. Without hesitation or instruction, everyone just began pulling the rakes, bags of dirt, shovels, and other tools out of the van. Marshall Murray, the CEO and Founder of More Than a Game, gave us brief overview of our mission that day, there was a quick round of introductions, and then it was right to work. The eight unfamiliar faces were all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with the “More Than A Game” logo on the chest. MTAG, as many of their 501c3 nonprofit who helps to renovate, build, and cleanup baseball fields. In addition to giving fields a makeover, they cultivate and further the interest in playing baseball within each community by hosting free clinics on the remodeled fields and build the community through the game of baseball.
Right away, the eight new faces joined my colleagues as we started the morning by collecting trash and broken glass. Then everyone noted that which needed cosmetic attention around the park, so we grabbed gardening tools and, with More Than a Game leading the way, focused on the field itself. We dug up all the weeds, straightened out and manicured the base paths, smoothed out and filled in holes and lips. We watched Coach, an experienced member of More Than A Game, heralded high school baseball coach and Alabama, and our resident grounds crew expert, as he dug up the pitcher’s mound and then installed new clay. Marshall kept us all entertained while we worked, chatted amongst the entire group. Meanwhile, Josh Andrews, another member of the team, was an absolute workhorse. He never took a break - he hoed, raked, poured dirt, weed-wacked the entire field, measured the lines, and dragged the field. An unsung hero. There was one person that this project would not have been possible without. It was someone who could have spent his cherished three days off during the baseball season at a beach with his teammates. He could have caught up on some much needed rest and relaxation or enjoyed the limited time off to see his family. Instead, PawSox infielder Mike Miller, along with his wife Jess, chose to spend their time rebuilding a little league field in Pawtucket. Not only did Mike help orchestrate the event with Joe and Marshall, but he worked his butt off to make sure every minute counted.
At the end of Day One, we had a beautiful little league field in front of us, and multiple new friendships had been formed, as we capped off a day of work with a barbecue catered by the PawSox executive chef Rob Gemma and a MTAG vs. PawSox wife ball game.
It was obvious that a team who believes in its mission, can accomplish anything. I learned that my new eight friends, flew to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, from all over the country Some came from their hometowns in Alabama or California, while others flew directly from their previous project they had been working on in Central America.
Day Two was even more fun. Mike hosted a clinic on the newly renovated field. Seventy five kids showed up, and their talented levels ranged from polished players to first-timers. I was in charge of the ground ball/ infield station. Every fifteen minutes, the age groups would rotate, and I would have a new group of youngsters to teach. They learned how to get into their ready position, how field a ground ball, and how to pop up to throw. In the distance, I saw my teammates teaching outfield techniques, hitting, and throwing. I saw Mike taking time with every kid, not just instructing them but trying to connect with each one. After we finished rotating stations, we separated the children into two groups. I was elated to be playing a fast-paced whiffle ball game with those who were between two and nine years old. There was so much energy and love for the game among the youngsters. I felt like a kid again.
After the clinic ended, most of the kids and staff congregated on the bleachers and in the dugout to eat pizza, and drove off with their chaperons and parents. An hour later, Mike Miller was still on the field with a group of Pawtucket Little Leaguers going over in-depth fielding mechanics and the mental side of the game. To Mike, it never gets old. You can never do enough for the community, its children, and their love for baseball. To Mike, It is More Than a Game.
I would like to thank Mike Miller and More Than a Game for having me, and reinforcing what it means to give back to a community whether it be your own or one that you are unfamiliar with. I look forward to rejoining the team in the future.