COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The Midwest League of Professional Baseball Clubs has named the West Michigan Whitecaps as its 2016 nominee for Minor League Baseball's post-season John Henry Moss Community Service Award.
The John Henry Moss Community Service Award is presented to a club that demonstrates an outstanding, on-going commitment to charitable service, support and leadership within their local community and within the baseball industry.
Since the Whitecaps' inaugural season in 1994, the team has been committed to operating as a community-based organization focused on providing affordable family friendly entertainment to the West Michigan region. And since that time, the Whitecaps' success as an organization has been closely linked to the outstanding support received from the community. Giving back to that community has always been a pillar of the Whitecaps' operating philosophy, and in 2013 the Whitecaps Community Foundation (a 501c (3)) was founded to focus the Whitecaps' commitment to, and leadership of, charitable support of West Michigan kids and their families.
Some of the Whitecaps' and Whitecaps Community Foundation's 2016 highlights and community impacts are detailed below:
Ted Rasberry Field
Thanks to the efforts of the Whitecaps Community Foundation and its community partners, a $54,000 grant was secured from the Baseball Tomorrow Fund (a partnership with Major League Baseball). In just four months' time one of Grand Rapids' most historic inner city fields was completely revitalized. Use of the new field is primarily for the Inner City Youth Baseball and Softball program and surrounding Grand Rapids community neighborhoods.
Orchestrating the revitalization of a field named in honor of a historic Negro League owner/player and Grand Rapids native was an easy decision for the Whitecaps Community Foundation's Board of Directors. When all was said and done, the Ted Rasberry Field renovations included: new bleachers, improved infield and playing surface, new equipment storage facility, reseeded outfield and an enhanced irrigation system.
Inner City Youth Baseball & Softball Program
The primary recipient of the Whitecaps' and Whitecaps Community Foundation's charitable efforts every year is the Inner City Youth Baseball and Softball program (ICYBS). This program is perhaps the Whitecaps' best example of stability and sustainability as this season marked its 22nd year of providing free baseball to Grand Rapids inner city kids. The program is a collaborative effort between the Whitecaps Community Foundation, the Whitecaps and other community partners. Since 1995, more than $250,000 has been pledged to the program by the Whitecaps and the Whitecaps Community Foundation, allowing more than 27,000 children the opportunity to participate in organized baseball for free within the inner city.
In 2016, the ICYBS added a focus on nutrition and fighting childhood hunger and provided 9,600 post-game meals for the program participants. In total, the 2016 season stat line reads as follows: 1,400 children participated with 68 volunteers serving as coaches, drivers, and scorekeepers who donated a total of 1,758 hours of their time. Equipment was also provided for free with the West Michigan community donating more than 300 gloves and various pieces of equipment through the Whitecaps Community Foundation's annual equipment drive.
Reading Program & Book Donation
The Whitecaps Community Foundation Reading Program is in its 12th year of helping area school children enjoy Whitecaps baseball while promoting reading. Children from area elementary schools who read a total of 450 minutes, or 15 minutes a day, in the month of March (known nationally as Reading Month) receive two tickets to any Whitecaps game in April-June. The Foundation delivers all support materials, such as bookmarks and posters, to all participating schools at no cost. The 2016 Reading Program had involvement from 75,000 K-6 area children from 268 schools ranging from public schools to home schooled. More than 20,000 complimentary tickets were given this season to children and their families in West Michigan.
To create even more excitement during the month of March and to encourage reading after the program had finished, the Whitecaps Community Foundation donated a book to every child at Dickinson Elementary School in Grand Rapids. Dickinson Elementary is considered a high-need school within Grand Rapids and received a total of 300 books.
Pinch Hitter Program
The Pinch Hitter Program is designed to give groups in need the opportunity to experience a Whitecaps game at no cost. Non-Profit organizations are matched with program donors and receive tickets allowing those groups to attend a Whitecaps game when they otherwise would not have been able to meet the financial obligation. In 2016 the Whitecaps Community Foundation was able to match 20 groups with corporate donors and as a result donated 500 tickets to groups in need. Michigan area.
Player Community Service Award
Since 1994, community involvement has been a pillar of how the Whitecaps operate, and this does not stop at the clubhouse door. West Michigan Whitecaps players are given the opportunity to volunteer throughout the community each season and in 2016, 30 players volunteered over 500 hours during the season. Players visited schools to encourage reading, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Veteran's home as well as other locations in the West Michigan area. This season three players won the Inaugural Whitecaps Community Service Award, given to players who had the most impact within the community: Pitcher Sandy Baez, Outfielder Rashad Brown and Infielder Will Allen. Each of these players volunteered more than 50 hours of their time from April through August.
Throughout the 2016 season, The Whitecaps Community Foundation helped non-profits raise funds by using the West Michigan Whitecaps facilities. Twelve non-profits raised $29,175 over the course of the season participating in the 50/50 raffle program. Non-profits took half of the $29,175 to use at their own discretion, while the winner took the other half. The Whitecaps Community Foundation had 13 of its own 50/50 raffles and managed to raise $30,760 for its programs in 2016.
The final line for 2016: With donations and fundraising efforts, the Whitecaps Community Foundation was able to give out more than $552,716 to local children and their families in 2016. All of these programs were considered by the Midwest League in choosing the West Michigan Whitecaps as its John Henry Moss Community Service Award winner and MiLB nominee.
Winners of all five of MiLB's post-season awards, including the Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award, the John Henry Moss Community Service Award, the Larry MacPhail Award, the John H. Johnson President's Award, and Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award, will be announced at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C. in December.
The Whitecaps open the 2017 season at home on Thursday, April 6 at 6:35 p.m. against the South Bend Cubs. Season tickets and mini plans will go on sale October 25 and can be purchased by calling the Whitecaps at 616-784-4131. Tickets for groups of 20 or more, including private party areas, will go on sale in November.