Tuesday January 27, 2009 marked the 20th annual "Going to Bat for B.A.T. Dinner" which celebrated the charitable efforts of the Baseball Assistance Team and the memories of Shea and Yankee Stadiums. Over 120 former Major League players were in attendance including 10 Hall of Famers.
During the opening press conference, both Luis Gonzalez and Bret Saberhagen spoke about the importance of B.A.T. Gonzalez's initial intrigue with B.A.T. came from having, "an opportunity to help baseball players and their families in need." After seeing the positive effects of B.A.T.'s efforts, he began to recruit the younger players in the clubhouse to make contributions. He felt it was his way of, "instilling old school values into new players," by helping them give back. Gonzalez was honored with 2008 Bart Giamatti Award for his involvement with numerous community based programs including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Saberhagen helped to raise $100,000 for the B.A.T. this year by winning a golf tournament with Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith, George Brett and former New York Met, Vince Coleman. He saw donating the winning purse to the B.A.T, "as a great way to give back to the baseball community." They received the 2008 Big BAT/Frank Slocum Award for their generous donation to the B.A.T. organization.
B.A.T. president Ted Sizemore said that the fundraising efforts will continue during Spring Training, visiting all 30 teams to educate players about the role of the B.A.T. The Bobby Murcer award will be given to the team that donates the most money during Spring Training.
This year's grant recipients included former Cleveland and Cincinnati farmhand pitcher Jacinto Camacho (1963-70) and Mets minor league outfielder Angel Cantres (1971-76). Both were able to have their expenses paid for acquiring prosthetic legs by the B.A.T. with the help of MLB alum Benny Ayala. Cantres gave a heartfelt speech during the dinner, thanking B.A.T. for giving him the opportunity to once again use the legs that allowed him to play baseball.
Current player representative, Randy Winn spoke about the continued need for B.A.T. awareness, "as any player regardless of circumstance can fall on hard times or have bad luck. It feels great to be in a position to provide assistance to the MLB family."
The evening proceeded with a cocktail reception hour, where many guests mingled with the many Major League alumni, scoring autographs and mingling with the many stars of baseball's past. The guests then made their way to the dinner, which was emceed by Gary Thorne. The Hall of Famers in attendance congregated on stage for photos, and many of the former Mets and Yankees gave their favorite memories of Shea and Yankee Stadium. Ed Kranepool relayed one of the more entertaining stories of the evening regarding the Mets colorful manager, Casey Stengel. "Casey was going to bring me out after a few innings of playing the second game of a double-header in 1964. I had played the first game, so I wasn't that worried; being 19 you're just happy to be out there. Of course, Casey couldn't keep his promise, as he used all of the substitutes within the first few innings and the game just happened to go 23 innings. The game ended at 11:50. If it would have gone 10 more minutes, it would have been the longest game ever, as we would have started in May and ended in June!"
For more information on the Baseball Assistance Team, please visit http://www.baseballassistanceteam.com