Scenes from the Ball Park – A Special Day For The Frontline Heroes Battling Covid-19

April 11th was supposed to be Opening Day for Parkview Little League in Pawtucket, RI. A parade through the streets of Pawtucket, local businesses and shop owners cheering in their doorsteps, the excitable sounds of youth baseball players laughing and screaming as they marched proudly to Doreen Tomlinson Athletic Fields and the awaiting field ceremony with all of its fanfare. For Justin and Jason, it would have been their final Opening Day as Little Leaguers, having reached that Golden League Age Limit of 12 years old in 2020. Each had played through the system,with different results. Justin played a total of 6 years for Parkview and was considered by most coaches to be hardworking, loyal to his teammates, and a decent player with modest success on the baseball field. Jason had also played 6 years for Parkview, but with incredible success, was a constant on the district all-star circuit, and even had a tryout in 2019 with Team USA. Despite their obvious differences in talent on the baseball field, the two boys were inseparable as best friends in life, in school and shared a deep love of their community.

The emails from league President Ryan Kwetkowski regarding Parkview Little League’s decisions to postpone baseball related activities, then the start of the season, as well as the start of baseball in Pawtucket, and eventually Opening Day, 2020 were tough to read in Jason and Justin’s households. The boys texted, Face Timed, and messaged each other after each email, trying to stay positive, not let emotions get them to a negative place, keeping hope alive that a season may happen. Both boy’s parents were in the medical field and worked at nearby Olmstead Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, MA. Justin’s Dad was an ER nurse. Jason’s Mom was a laboratory technician. The boys would ask each other how their parents were fairing during this crisis, as they were now physically separated due to the stay at home orders by the Governor of Rhode Island. They would chat about baseball and distance learning and how this is such a strange place to be in.

In the days leading up to Opening Day, Jason and Justin began to shift their messages from disappointment and frustration about not playing baseball to seizing an opportunity to do something great for their community. Baseball was in their hearts. They couldn’t play on the fields they loved or take batting practice or pitch in the bullpen. They knew baseball would be back at some point in 2020 but right now, they were going to be respectful of the stay at home orders. After all, their parents were essential workers, fighting the virus on the front lines at Olmstead Memorial every single day. They decided they wanted to honor their parents and do something amazing for them and the other medical workers at the hospital. But how? And what? How could they afford a special gift? They were 12 years old and didn’t have jobs. What was a community need that the two boys could rally around and focus on and possibly make money and create an incredible gift for their parents and the other workers risking their lives for others?

Late afternoon on Wednesday April 8, Jason was watching an instruction video on YouTube featuring legendary defensive infield coach Ron Washington on how to field short hops. When the video ended, Jason caught a glimpse of an instructional video on how to make homemade cloth masks to protect yourself and others from spreading/contracting the Coronavirus, also known as Covid-19. The woman in the video demonstrated that all you need is an old T-shirt, scissors, and an open space (like a counter top) to make a mask. She cut the sleeve off a T-Shirt, then cut a string of the shirt by cutting a continuous strip of cloth at the base of the T-shirt, then she showed how to secure and tie the mask to your face. Jason shared the video with Justin and the boys started to come up with ideas. “We can make protective masks out of our old Parkview game jerseys.” “We can get the other players in the league to do it and sell them for charity on Instagram” “We can maybe sew on a Parkview patch or Little League® patch to them.” “Or, we can customize them with our player numbers.” “Or we can customize them with our parent’s faces.” The two best friends went back and forth for an hour. Until they came to a mutual decision.

“Parkview Little League in the shape of a baseball. Inside the baseball, the player’s last name and favorite number.” That’s it. Now for the charitable part of it. If they could sell the masks for $5 apiece, 250 players in the league, potentially they could make $1250. How about a giant takeout order for the hospital workers? How about a giant takeout order from their favorite local sponsor, The Kork County Pub? They looked up Kork’s Pub online and saw that they have a program called “Food For the Front Line Program,” where you can sponsor a dollar amount for front line workers, like Justin and Jason’s parents. This was it. Make the masks, sell them, go to Kork’s with the money, and get their parents an amazing meal as an appreciation for all their hard work and sacrifice. They had the idea set in stone and now needed the help of the league’s PR agent to get the word out, without spoiling the surprise of the whole thing.

On what was supposed to be Opening Day, 2020, Saturday April 11th, Justin and Jason made the first set of masks, each in their own kitchens, miles apart, but connected in one common goal. They didn’t have patches and neither knew how to sew, so they simply used a black magic marker to write in “Parkview Little League” and their respective names “Ramirez#7” and “Smith#12” on their masks. Then, they followed the instructions of the YouTube Video and put their masks on and secured them. The entire process took about 15 minutes from start to finish. They each took selfies of the masks and sent them to each other. Then, it was time to contact Parkview’s league administrators to pitch them the idea.

Jason and Justin donned their custom cloth Parkview Little League masks and called up PR Agent Andy Holtz via Face Time. “Where the heck did you get those awesome masks?” yelled Andy over the phone “And where can I get one for Alex?” “We made them this morning. Instead of being all sad about Opening Day, we decided to do something good for our community and especially our parents,” replied Jason. Justin continued to tell Mr. Holtz about the masks, the customization, the purpose, getting Kork’s involved as a thank you for being such a loyal sponsor, Olmstead Memorial, and so on and so forth. Andy was blown away by the proposal and asked the boys to hang on for about 20 minutes while he called the other board members to discuss the proposal. So, Justin and Jason hung up and waited for Andy’s call back. They kept their masks on and just lowered the cloth under their chins for the time being.

“We have about 300 jerseys in good condition from previous seasons in storage we can use.” “I know a screenprinter who make the stitching look amazing.” “I will donate my delivery truck to accommodate the large size order.” “I’ll make a bunch of flower arrangements” “I will donate my time” “I will help” “I will also help,” the voices of the nearly 20 members of the board of directors at Parkview Little League rang out one after the other. Kork’s Pub bartender Shelly Oldmeadow, the league’s safety officer, shed a tear and exclaimed “Oh hell yeah, this is going to be legendary. I will talk to the owner today about this and I’m sure he will be blown away.” Andy thanked every single one of the volunteers with all his heart and also reminded them that this was Jason and Justin’s brainchild and that the boys were to be involved as well. All agreed and Andy got Jason and Justin back on the phone. “We are all in boys, so what is the next steps? We have Kork’s on board, a screenprinter to help, delivery people, and the entire Parkview family behind you. What are your thoughts and what is the next step?”

By Thursday, April 16th Jason, Justin, Andy, and the team of volunteers had started to execute the operation of the plan. The league’s bookkeeper, Mrs. Lopez, would keep track of the money and set up a PayPal account for the purposes of collecting money from sales of the masks. Kork’s owner reached out to Olmstead Memorial to get a head count of an average shift count for workers in the Emergency Room and in the laboratory services departments. Andy put together a special landing page on Parkview Little League’s website to promote the cloth mask campaign and how to purchase one, but did not divulge what the actual purpose was. Players were asked to write out on a piece of paper their last names and their favorite number and then email to the screenprinting company. Jason and Justin wanted the masks and handwriting to look authentic, so they insisted the player’s own handwriting be used for the masks. Jason and Justin made a video on how to make the cloth masks and Andy posted it to their social media pages, website, and in their newsletter. The league responded with a fever and within one week, 250 players had cut a sleeve off a league supplied game used Parkview Little League player jersey, cut the string to secure the mask, mailed the sleeeves as well as submitted their names and favorite numbers to the screenprinters. Now, the screenprinter had the masks, the names, and it was up to his company to produce one mask per player.

Sunday morning after attending a virtual mass, Mrs. Lopez logged into the league’s PayPal account and strained her eyes to view the total. She looked away from the computer screen and then looked again. Then she got Andy on the phone. “We have a situation,” said Mrs. Lopez. “What happened, is it fraud?” replied Andy. “Not quite, we have over $5000 in our account as of this morning.” she began to read off the orders one by one. “4 masks, 11 masks, 30 masks. People aren’t ordering one mask Andy like we thought. They are ordering a whole family’s worth of masks. And there is an order here from C. Williams, maybe the kid from the St. Raphaels? He ordered 100.” “Mrs. Lopez, that is a good problem to have,” and Andy hung up and group texted Jason and Justin. “You boys should be really proud of yourselves and your idea, this thing is amazing and growing so huge. I think Williams from the Yanks just bought a bunch of them.” The boys each hopped on their laptops and looked up Chris Williams on Twitter. Sure enough, he had posted the Parkview Little League Mask Campaign and that he was a huge supporter of local Rhode Island baseball. The boys screamed out simultaneously and then returned to Andy and the group text. “How is the screenprinting going?” asked Jason. “Boys, better than we thought. The cost per sleeve along with the stitching is less than $1 per mask and they are already shipping out orders. Everything is going to plan. Now, we just need to figure out when we do the dinner at your parent’s work. Are there days that they are working at the same time in the hospital?”

Jason and Justin polled their parents about their work schedule. Saturday, April 25th both would be at the hospital around 3pm. Jason’s Dad had a 8 to 5 shift and Justin’s Mom was 12 to 9. So it was set. Saturday, April 25th just two weeks from a cancelled Parkview Little League Opening Day, just two weeks from one of the biggest disappointments in the young lives of Jason and Justin, a renewed excitement began to build in anticipation of an amazing tribute to their parents and the dedicated medical staff at Olmstead Memorial. The boys got the volunteer group and Kork’s in a group chat online, gave them the date, and gave each volunteer an assignment for that Saturday. Flowers to be handed out, the delivery truck set up, a parade of cars with the expressed directions of keeping social distancing, picking a wide range of food from Kork’s menu, details after details flowing out of the young and intelligent and respectful and incredible minds of two 12 year old Parkview Little Leaguers.

By Friday afternoon, April 24th, the customized Parkview Little League cloth mask campaign fund had reached an astonishing $10,600. Mrs Lopez contacted Kork’s to get the final bill for the Saturday takeout order. With the blessing of Justin and Jason, Mrs. Lopez had included a 20% gratuity to be given to all the restaurant workers and bartenders who were out of work. That being said, to feed all of the workers at the hospital at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, the total bill presented to Parkview from Kork’s came in at $2000, with Kork’s donating $2000 themselves, inspired by the two boys’ generosity and commitment to community. Mrs. Lopez paid Kork’s and added the addition $400 as the boys had instructed.

Saturday April 25th, Justin and Jason boarded separate cars and headed over to Olmstead Memorial. Kork’s owner had already spoken to their parent’s department heads about the lunch and that it would be held from 3 to 5 on Saturday, so that the hospital staff were not shorthanded inside the hospital. The department heads agreed to keep the boy’s secret and only tell the other staff about the surprise. Cars, SUV’s, trucks, motorcycles all donned with painted signs on the windows, streamers, and screamers inside the vehicles started to make the roughly 15 minute drive from Pawtucket to Olmstead around 2pm. The cars landed on Park St., which led to a back parking lot behind the hospital. The delivery truck arrived promptly at 2:15 and set up shop in the back parking lot of Olmstead Memorial with folding tables, stacks of takeout containers, and a lemonade stand. A flower arrangement was placed on each table along with a sample of the Parkview Little League cloth masks wrapped around the base of each vase.

At approximately 3:15 pm, Jason’s Dad emerged from the back entrance of Olmstead Memorial and into the parking lot area. The lot was filled with folding tables, vases with flowers, and enough food to feed an entire hospital staff on a busy Saturday afternoon. “Who organized this?” asked Jason’s Dad to his co-worker. “I think he did,” pointing to a car honking its horn in the parking lot. About 5 parking spaces in, Jason rolled down the back window of his Mom’s car and yelled out “Thank you Dad, Thank you everybody.” Jason’s Dad waved back and stood and stared at the parking lot. It was filled with cars, filled with his friends and former players, and filled with food!!! Three car spots over, and one spot back Justin rolled down the window of his sister’s car and yelled “Hey Jay, we did it!!!” Shortly after, Justin’s Mom emerged into the parking lot area. Similar question to a co-worker and similar response “I think he did it” pointing to her son Justin. The response was overwhelming for everyone. Jason and Justin cheered. The hospital workers cheered and yelled out “Thank you” to all of the Parkview families gathered in their cars. Every single take out box was doled out and eaten. In the end, the flowers were donated to the hospital. Clean up was quick, the tables were folded, and every car moved peacefully out of the parking lot and headed back home to Pawtucket.

After a very emotional Saturday, Jason and Justin reconnected late Sunday afternoon with Andy over text. “We still have a ton of money in the account, what do you boys suggest?” wrote Andy, who had a thought or two of his own. “Let’s do a takeout order for the first responders, then teachers, then maybe another local hospital.” wrote Jason and the three all agreed. The sales from the masks continued to pour in and actually inspired other local Rhode Island leagues to join in. The two Parkview Little Leaguers had turned a huge disappointment into a wonderfully successful campaign for the good of their community.

How are you making a difference today?

Please note, the people and events in this story are fictional. Some places and business are based on actual locations.

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The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.

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