Until recently, Chase Baumgardner had quite the flow.
Baumgardner, clubhouse manager for the Charlotte Knights, entered the 2018 season having not cut his hair for over two years. For reasons related to both style and pragmatism, he often consolidated his long, curly locks into the oft-derided hairstyle known as the "man bun."
"I got a little grief from people who don't buy into the man bun persona, but that didn't bother me," said Baumgardner. "I know who I am."
Chase -- and many of his closest family, friends and co-workers -- has enthusiastically bought in to his new persona: the buzz cut.
On June 28, Baumgardner's 14-inch mane was shaved off on the field prior to a game at the Knights' home of BB&T Ballpark. After the comparatively unceremonious snipping of his pony tail, Knights fireballing right-hander Michael Kopech took a pair of clippers and removed the remainder of Baumgardner's luxurious coiffure. His hair was donated to Wigs For Kids, an organization that helps kids with cancer "look themselves and live their lives."
2018 Road Trip
Meanwhile, in the lead-up to Baumgardner's dramatic transformation, he became the Knights' leading fundraiser for Vs. Cancer. That organization, which this writer is also involved with, splits its proceeds between local child life programs and pediatric brain tumor research.
Baumgardner, originally from West Virginia, spent most of his childhood in the Charlotte area. He was a latecomer to baseball, however, remarking that he "hated" the sport until a friend got him a job as Knights' bat boy in 2006. Since then he's spent almost every season working in some capacity for the Knights; he began his current gig as clubhouse manager in 2014.
For Baumgardner, getting involved with Vs. Cancer represented a way in which he could make a difference. He empathizes with kids who are fighting the disease and is no stranger to adversity himself. He spent the 2012 season away from baseball, doing what he describes as "data cabling and security installs." While at work one day, he suffered an accident that left him blind in his right eye.
"I was cutting a wire. Wire shot up right underneath my glasses. Split my cheek, hit me right in the pupil. Done. I mean it's still my eye, all that, but no vision whatsoever," he said. "That did put a new perspective on life and how you should appreciate things. ... They say that things happen in the blink of an eye, and this literally happened in the blink of an eye. Something shot up. Boom, I'm blind. ... It definitely wakes you up to how fast things can change. You don't just say that anymore, you know how fast things can change."
The whole time he was growing his hair, Baumgardner had it in the back of his mind that that he would eventually donate it to a child fighting cancer. Raising additional money for the cause -- his initial goal was $2,500 -- was "getting two birds with one stone."
"At first I threw it out there as kind of a tease, 'Oh, I'm gonna cut my hair,'" he said. "And then I started sitting there thinking about it, how I could potentially help a child out with a rough part in their life. And then I started thinking about in my current position, I know a lot of guys in [Major League Baseball] and around here. They have a little bit of money they can donate. ... I had some people who were willing to help me out and so we ended up surpassing [the $2,500 goal] by a pretty good chunk."
Among the guys with a "little bit of money" to donate was Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito, who bonded with Baumgardner over a shared love of video games while pitching for the Knights in 2017.
[Giolito] made a very big donation for me and he kind of passed it along to the guys up top and they, you know, 50 bucks here, 25 bucks there. I think I ended up with 50 or so [donors]. ... I would say the bulk of them were players. And that meant a lot to me, that they would support something I've done. It's not that big of a deal -- it's cutting your hair -- but the fact that they backed me was pretty cool. Made me feel like what I'd been doing the past few years was appreciated. The $2,500 I thought was gonna be an insurmountable goal, but I wanted to try to shoot for it anyway. Once I finally made that goal it was an awesome moment."
Baumgardner's onfield haircut was also an awesome moment, albeit a trifle terrifying.
"[Kopech] went in a little too hot. He wasn't holding the clippers the correct direction, so he went in spike first. That didn't go well, but other than that it was great," he said. "I was trying to get [Kopech] to cut his flow, I'm sure he could have raised quite a bit more than I did, but he wasn't letting that go."
Baumgardner may very well grow his hair out again, once again adopting that "man bun persona." For now, he's just happy that he was able to contribute to a cause he believes in.
"I'm pretty comfortable with myself and I know that growing up that I wasn't," he said. "I realize that those kids, there's nothing they can do about having cancer, so I'm sure that going into a school or something and they're bald, they could be shy and fearful. If [a wig] is what makes them comfortable so they can make it through their day, through their chemo, that's all that really matters."