LAS VEGAS -- He was awash in fear and dread as he watched his son in that hospital bed, tied to wires and tubes and machines."In that dark room, an irrational parent's mind races," he said.Thinking back on that period in his life, Chris Lessner is filled with gratitude on
LAS VEGAS -- He was awash in fear and dread as he watched his son in that hospital bed, tied to wires and tubes and machines.
"In that dark room, an irrational parent's mind races," he said.
Thinking back on that period in his life, Chris Lessner is filled with gratitude on many levels. On Tuesday morning at the Winter Meetings, the trainer of the Arizona Rookie League Athletics told his story at the Baseball Assistance Team Breakfast.
In its 32 years of existence, B.A.T. has provided more than $42 million to assist members of the baseball family who need short-term financial help with health care, food, utilities, rent, etc. This year, B.A.T. has awarded 475 grants totaling more than $4 million thanks to donations by Major League players and staffing funding by Major League Baseball.
Tuesday's breakfast was to spread the word of B.A.T.'s existence and how it's there to help former Major League and Minor League players, coaches, scouts, umpires and staff members. In addition, B.A.T. has started a scholarship fund to assist former players with their transition to life after baseball.
Former Major Leaguer Todd Coffey did a video testimonial about the scholarship program, saying, "I've been unbelievably lucky to have B.A.T. help my family. Without the scholarship program, college would not be feasible. There are no words I can say to the Baseball Assistance Team to express my gratitude. B.A.T. truly has a passion to help people."
As for Lessner, he gained a different level of appreciation in 2006, when his 11-year-old son, Alex, was diagnosed with leukemia. He eventually needed financial help for Alex's treatment.
"I'd spent 20 Spring Trainings in the back of the room when the representatives of B.A.T. would give their presentation [to players and coaches]," Lessner said. "They basically tell players and staff members, `We are there for you. If you ever need anything, let us know.' It never once crossed my mind that I would have to reach out to B.A.T. when my own son would be battling cancer."
Alex is now a healthy 13-year-old. Chris Lessner said that while the financial support was vital, B.A.T.'s emotional assistance was also important.
"They made me feel that I didn't have to be out there alone," he said. "They just let me know there was light at the [end of the] tunnel. That's something I can never repay. I can never say enough thank yous."
B.A.T. president Randy Winn, who played 13 seasons for five teams, said one of the organization's biggest challenges is getting word of its existence to people in need.
As B.A.T. executive director Erik Nilsen said, "Our mission is to help restore health, pride and dignity to members of the baseball family in need."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.