Community-minded Folty lights up young faces

Remembering what it was like to meet Griffey, Braves pitcher starts initiative for kids

November 20th, 2017
"I'm looking forward to continuing to do whatever I can to help them," Mike Foltynewicz said.

ATLANTA -- After being allowed to stay up long past his bedtime, Eli Williams was denied his wish to see Mike Foltynewicz successfully complete his bid for a no-hitter. But the young suburban Atlanta resident will forever be thankful for the bond he has since gained with the Braves pitcher.

As Foltynewicz carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a June 30 game in Oakland, Williams, who was just 6 years old at the time, attentively sat at a small table while his younger brother and dog slept nearby. The clock had already struck midnight on the East Coast, but this vibrant young Braves fan was determined to continue chronicling every out in his scorebook.

Foltynewicz's bid for history ended with 's leadoff home run in the ninth inning. After the game was complete, Williams' father, Ben, tweeted Foltynewicz a picture of his son and the completed scoresheet he wanted to present to the Braves pitcher.

Once Foltynewicz saw the picture, the hurler arranged for the young fan to come to SunTrust Park and enjoy what was essentially his own Folty Friday, an initiative the 26-year-old right-hander began this year in an effort to bring Atlanta youth some of the same joy he felt when he met Ken Griffey Jr. nearly 20 years ago.

"I just wanted to give the kids a chance to experience something different," Foltynewicz said. "I'm not Chipper Jones or Dansby Swanson, but when you see the smile on those kids' faces and realize they look up to you, it certainly brings you joy."

The Braves arranged for Williams and his family to come to SunTrust Park on Aug. 4. Foltynewicz paid a surprise visit as the family was dining in the Delta Club, assisted with a tour of the stadium and then presented Williams a bat during batting practice.

"We were blown away by all he did," Ben Williams said. "The day after we met with Folty, Eli was real down and looked sad. When I asked what was wrong, he burst into tears. Eli said, 'I just wish it was Friday again so we could do it all over.'"

Foltynewicz had a similar feeling nearly two decades ago after his mother took him out of his elementary school in Harvard, Ill., and drove nearly two hours to Big Foot Country Club in Lake Geneva, Wisc., to attend a celebrity event that included Griffey.

The Hall of Fame outfielder spent a few minutes with Foltynewicz and signed a couple of baseball cards the pitcher's mother had gathered for the trip.

"I was thrilled and just had that look on my face," Foltynewicz said. "I just want to do whatever I can to provide similar joy to some of the kids here in Atlanta."

With the help of his fiancée, Brittany Wortmann, Foltynewicz came up with the idea to schedule Folty Fridays, which primarily consisted of him taking pizza (his staple pregame meal) to area schools and facilities that catered to children.

Foltynewicz started the initiative on May 5, when he paid a surprise visit to his neighborhood buddy, Kaiden Drum, and his third-grade classmates at Due West Elementary School. The pitcher's friendship with Drum had started a few months earlier after he had walked up the street to shoot basketball with the young boy. Foltynewicz also paid a visit to approximately 35 orphans at Calvary Children's Home on June 9 and made a surprise visit as the Braves staged their Youth Baseball Camp at SunTrust Park on July 14. He plans to grow this initiative and become more involved within the Atlanta community over the next few years.

"It means a lot to me to know that these kids look up to all of us as Major League players," Foltynewicz said. "It's our responsibility to set a good example when we're on the field and out in the community. I'm looking forward to continuing to do whatever I can to help them. It's going to keep getting better because we're going to keep getting better."