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Sports store, league go to bat for team left in lurch by former coach

James Garner owner The Sports StatiTinley Park has offered donate uniforms members Deep River Devils boys traveling baseball team after

James Garner, owner of The Sports Station in Tinley Park, has offered to donate uniforms to members of the Deep River Devils boys traveling baseball team after their coach took money that was to be used for tounament play and uniforms. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 26, 2012 8:21AM

The Deep Rivers Devils have a few angels in the outfield.

The traveling baseball team consisting of a dozen 11-year-old Hobart, Ind. boys — left without uniforms or games to play after their former coach allegedly stole the team’s money — may be able to play after all, thanks to the generosity of a businessman from south suburban Tinley Park and the Hobart Little League.

James Garner, owner of The Sports Station in Tinley Park, said Tuesday he is willing to donate uniforms to the boys after hearing of their predicament.

“I’m pretty confident I can help them out. I don’t know what their colors are, but I can at least make them look respectful,” Garner said.

Garner said he was forwarded a Tuesday newspaper article on the team’s troubles by a customer who asked if there was anything he could do to help the kids out.

“Unfortunately, I see a lot of this happening, with coaches taking the kids’ money. I’m happy to help out,” he said.

Garner said his shop supplies uniforms to about 50,000 kids each year and always has plenty of uniforms in stock. He said uniforms usually cost about $150 to $300 per player, depending on what they include.

Garner said he would provide the boys with hats, a couple jerseys each, pants and socks.

“That’s awesome of him,” said Lisa Merrill, of Hobart, acting as spokeswoman for the team.

Merrill said she was supposed to meet Tuesday night with the Hobart Little League, which agreed to take the boys on as an additional team. Merrill said the cost is $165 per player and she wasn’t sure if that included the cost of uniforms.

She said the boys would play about 12 to 15 games with the Little League.

This compares to the roughly 60 games they were supposed to play in Indiana and Illinois as a traveling team under the former coach. Parents paid $675 each for the games and uniforms, plus many also paid for spirit wear and held fundraisers for the boys, she said.

Hobart police estimate the former coach took between $3,000 and $8,000, depending on how many bills he actually paid — something they’ve been unable to determine.

Merrill said the uniforms were supposedly with the coach, but she discovered he never paid for them, nor did he pay for the tournaments the kids were supposed to be in.

Merrill said she received a letter from the coach claiming he had “a breakdown” and was receiving treatments. He promised to return all the money to the parents once the treatments are over, Merrill said.

Hobart police Lt. David Grissom said he hoped to present evidence against the coach to prosecutors on Wednesday.

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