MLB players, readers send local parents to Little League World Series
By MARY MITCHELL August 12, 2014 4:04PM
First baseman Trey Hondras, top, jumps into the arms of pitcher Marquis Jackson as their team, Jackie Robinson West, from Chicago celebrate their 12-7 win over New Albany, Ind., in the Little League Central Regional baseball championship game in Lawrence, Ind., on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. Also shown are Josh Houston, No. 3, and Brandon Green, right. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye)
Updated: September 14, 2014 6:34AM
Parents of all 13 players on the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars will have the opportunity to see their sons play in the Little League World Series thanks to an outpouring of donations.
Besides readers, businesses and little league baseball fans, four Major League Baseball players pitched in to help the families.
LaTroy Hawkins, a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies who played with the Chicago Cubs from 2004-2005; Torii Hunter, a right fielder for the Detroit Tigers; and brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton with the Atlanta Braves donated $20,000 to assist the families.
“They saw the kids on TV and they specifically wanted to support the parents getting there,” said Bill Haley, an assistant coach and director of Jackie Robinson West Little League.
Haley said Hawkins indicated that it was “very important that parents are there when the kids are playing so that the kids can look up in the stands and see some friendly faces.”
“We have been getting constant donations since the boys won regional. The $20,000 is going to be split equally among the parents of the 13 players,” Haley said.
In addition, the Community Currency Exchange Association of Illinois donated $2,500 to assist in the effort.
“We all have children and we all know how important it is for parents to be in the stands. Being at that game will be the highlight of their lives. We want to make sure they get there,” said Dan Colla, the board member who brought the issue to the association.
But folks from all walks of life have sent emails asking how they can help.
“I’m making a donation today. My sons are those kid’s ages and wanted to donate too. It’s a great story for the kids, parents and our great city,” said Chris L.
Bernie A. said: “This is a once in a lifetime experience the parents of JRW should have. As a coach at Hamlin Park, I would really like to help some of the parents get to Pennsylvania. I can donate to the league, but would really love to see the parents go.”
Several readers, including Nikki Zollar, a prominent Chicago attorney and philanthropist, were particularly interested in helping Robert Bufford, the father of player Cameron Bufford.
Because Bufford was laid off, he was able to spend a lot more time at his son’s practices, but the unemployment left him in a financial bind.
“I would like to make sure the father is able to go. Some people don’t think there is any value in staying home with your children,” Zollar said .
The Jackie Robinson West All-Stars will play its first game on Thursday.
Darold Butler, the team’s coach, and the father of one of its players, said the South Siders are in “baseball heaven.”
As for Butler, he’s been so busy fielding calls, his conversations with his wife, Donita, are often cut short.
“You talk about a schedule. They’ve got me so busy, I can’t keep my battery charged,” Butler told me Tuesday morning.
But he appreciates all of the attention his players are getting.
“We are going to continue to make Chicago and the State of Illinois proud. We appreciate the support. That is… motivating us to want to be greater,” Butler said.
“For the kids, it’s like Christmas. They have received so many things. But this is huge,” the coach added.
“Every kid would love to see their mom and dad in the stands while they are playing. It is a big deal. It is going to motivate them to do their best,” Butler pointed out.
“That is what happens when a kids looks in the stands and sees a parent supporting something that they love to do.”