CLEVELAND -- When the coronavirus pandemic continued to linger deeper into the spring, the City of Cleveland Recreational Baseball Program had no choice but to cancel its youth league for the summer, making it unlikely for the kids in the local community to continue their development this year.
"I was kind of bummed, because I just love to play," 16-year-old Mar'Quis Pinkney said. "I love to play ball with my teammates, my coaches. I just like to come out here and have fun during the summer, get to know people a little bit better, up my game a little bit. I was kind of down about that."
That's when the Indians stepped in.
The recreational league originally reached out to Matt Kata, the Indians' manager of youth baseball development and initiatives, to see if he'd have any recommendations for what they could still do this summer. Kata was ready for the call, offering up the organization's Rally Cap program that it created to partner with other leagues in the area. He sent over the curriculum that gave guidelines on practice plans and "do's and don'ts" for coaches to continue the development of younger players.
"We came out and did a couple training [sessions] for their coaches and staff," Kata said, "and we're excited that, one, kids are gonna be out playing. And being able to provide some resources. ... I think that's always been our goal, supporting the city. We're excited to see how it progresses."
After sharing those materials and resources with the local leagues, the club got closer Brad Hand involved. The 30-year-old has his own foundation, "Helping Hands," and has a strong passion for helping youth baseball players. So when the Indians got word of the situation, there was no hesitation to bring it to Hand's attention.
For all 15 of the recreational teams, Hand purchased starter sets that consisted of equipment like bases, hitting cages, Wiffle balls, and bat and ball sets. He also bought 150 gloves, one for each participant in the six-week program.
"I was not expecting that, but I am grateful," Pinkney said. "And I am thankful that he was able to give us some equipment to use."
"It's awesome to be able to work with a clubhouse that just wants to give back so much in the community," Kata said. "Being able to pick and choose [a player] when [they say], 'We want to do as much as we can.' It's awesome. It was great for Brad to step up, and we're looking forward to hearing the stories of kids getting better and having a lot of fun."
Hand also did a Zoom call with the local Black Sox team at Luke Easter Park for a question and answer session. Each young player took a turn to ask Hand about his career and for advice. At the end, Slider surprised the kids by handing out the bags of equipment that Hand sent along to turn what looked like a disappointing summer into one with much promise.
"It was pretty nice, because not a lot of people get to say they get to [talk to professional player," Pinkney said. "I am happy and glad to say I was able to do that, talk to a professional baseball player to give me advice, be able to ask questions and stuff like that.
"I hope to see him one day on the same field."