Former Major League outfielder Benny Ayala waited eight hours in line at the gas station just like everybody else after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. He stood outside of his local bank for four hours for a chance to withdraw money. He experienced the food and water shortages, too.Now, Ayala
Former Major League outfielder Benny Ayala waited eight hours in line at the gas station just like everybody else after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. He stood outside of his local bank for four hours for a chance to withdraw money. He experienced the food and water shortages, too.
Now, Ayala is using his firsthand knowledge of the conditions on the ground and his baseball network for positive change. As the Baseball Assistance Team's (B.A.T.) consultant in Puerto Rico, Ayala has helped B.A.T. assist more than 90 families on the island.
• B.A.T. working to find solutions in Puerto Rico
"It's a pleasure and a huge opportunity for me to work with this organization and let everybody in Puerto Rico know that we're a baseball family and our mission is to help," said Ayala, 67, who won a World Series with the Orioles in 1983 and also played for the Mets, Cardinals and Indians during his 10-year career. "I use every opportunity to identify players that we might be able to help."
Created in 1986 by a group of former Major Leaguers, B.A.T. was formed to help members of the baseball family in need of assistance. Throughout the years, the organization has awarded more than 3,900 grants and more than $38 million "to restore health, pride and dignity to members of the Baseball Family."
Ayala's responsibilities include visiting B.A.T. grant applicants, gauging their needs, retrieving paperwork related to their cases and following up after grants have been awarded. The former player, who started as a volunteer with the organization, also played an important role in the coordinated effort between B.A.T. and MLB's Security Department. Like many families, Ayala and his wife were displaced from their home after the storm.
"I can't say enough about what he has meant to the organization and the impact Benny has had as a former big league player," said Erik Nilsen, B.A.T.'s executive director. "He really goes above and beyond what we ask him to do. Benny is probably someone who doesn't get enough credit for what's going on down there."
Recognition for Ayala's efforts could be on the way. The Puerto Rico Sports Museum and Hall of Fame is considering him for induction for his off-field efforts in continuing B.A.T.'s mission.
Meet more B.A.T. grant recipients from Puerto Rico:
Ivan Reyes, former Minor League player
Reyes -- who played in the Minors with the Yankees, Reds and Angels from 1999-2005 -- was so inspired by B.A.T.'s assistance after Hurricane Maria that he joined the team.
"I didn't know about B.A.T. until the hurricane hit the island, and now personally, I can say it has helped so much, and I have been treated so well," Reyes, 37, said. "If you saw what my house looked like, you wouldn't believe it. It was destroyed. B.A.T. helped me and they keep helping."
Reyes' house, which is located on wetlands in Toa Baja, was completely overrun by the storm, forcing his family to escape to their roof to wait for assistance. B.A.T. helped Reyes while his home was being repaired and also helped him replace lost possessions. The assistance proved to be crucial because Reyes' wife gave birth to a child a few days before the storm hit the island.
"I'm motivated to help B.A.T. as they continue to help others," he said. "I have to tell the world that it is just a spectacular organization."
Reyes joined Nilsen and Laurel Prieb on B.A.T.'s Player Payroll Deduction fundraising efforts earlier this year.
Roberto Maysonet, Brewers
Maysonet, who played in the Minor Leagues in Milwaukee's system from 1998-2002, has been receiving assistance from B.A.T. since 2013, when former Major League player Angel Pagan, who is also from Puerto Rico, referred him. But it was Hurricane Maria that changed everything. The storm destroyed his home and at one point forced him to live out of his vehicle while his mother stayed with another family.
B.A.T. assisted with purchasing materials so Maysonet could build a cement house strong enough to withstand future storms.
"It's like they came from heaven to help me and all of us players," Maysonet, 38, said. "We had a lot of players impacted by the hurricane and it was just a very bad situation for all of us here. They provided all that we needed, and it's been a true blessing. Because of their help, we are getting our lives back."
Julio "Jerry" Morales, Major League player and Major League coach
Morales -- who played 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Padres, Cubs, Cardinals, Tigers and Mets starting in 1969, and later served on big league coaching staffs with Cubs, Expos and Nationals -- has been a part of the baseball family for almost 50 years. B.A.T. helped him when Hurricane Maria damaged his home in Caguas, Puerto Rico.
"For ex-players like us here, we are so grateful, because not only did they help us, they don't stop caring about us," Morales, 69, said. "We love the game the same way players now do, but a lot of players back then didn't make a lot of money, so when a hurricane like Maria comes, something powerful we haven't seen in many years, it was very hard. B.A.T has been present the entire time."
Alex Aranzamendi, Marlins
Aranzamendi, who played in the Marlins' Minor League system from 1992-94, is grateful his B.A.T. family has helped him to take care of his own immediate family in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
"The main thing for us is that B.A.T. has allowed us to continue with all of our responsibilities on the island," Aranzamendi, 44, said. "A lot of Puerto Ricans lost jobs after the hurricane, and we still have bills to pay and families to take care of. We have to continue with our lives, and B.A.T gave us a chance."
Aranzamendi was a salesperson until the storm wiped out the store where he worked. The loss of employment complicated matters because he and his wife care for their young daughter, Nayesis, who has a rare genetic mutation which affects her brain development. Their daughter's condition requires therapy twice a week and a special diet. B.A.T. has assisted the family on multiple fronts since last November.
"The help means everything," Aranzamendi said. "They even helped my father, too. If B.A.T. does not appear in our lives, it would be very difficult."
Marcial Allen, Braves
Allen, who played in the Minors with the Milwaukee Braves from 1958-63, believes the spirit of Roberto Clemente's legacy of community service and generosity lives through B.A.T.'s efforts in Puerto Rico.
He should know. Allen and Clemente were close friends and teammates in Puerto Rico's Winter League.
"Roberto was a simple man, a humble man and a great role model, because he helped everyone. So does B.A.T.," Allen, 79, said. " He would have loved B.A.T. and how it helps Puerto Rico. It's a blessing for all of us."
B.A.T. recently helped Allen with roof repairs and new appliances for his home in San Juan. The organization has also assisted with other daily necessities.
"I have my health, I have food, and I am alive because of B.A.T.," said Allen, who has been a grant recipient since 2011. "They have not forgotten anyone, and that feels great to know they care about us."
Emma Paradis, 95, widow of former Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves player Luis Olmo
Yuri Perez, Olmo's grandson, calls B.A.T. a "life saver" and says he doesn't have all of the words to express his gratitude.
"One word that comes to mind is 'salvation,' but it's just so hard to describe what it means for us," Perez said. "B.A.T has been heaven sent."
Bedridden with several serious conditions and diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, Paradis receives a grant each month to cover nursing expenses for the two home attendants who provide her 24-hour care. Paradis is also cared for by Perez and his mother. B.A.T.'s grant also helped to care for Luis Olmo and paid for his funeral.
"After my grandfather parted last year, I thought the help would end there, but they have continued to help grandmother and it has been incredible," Perez said. "My grandfather was a sports man. He golfed, fished, bowled and played tennis, but his qualities as human being surpassed his physical abilities. He was humbled by B.A.T.'s help. We all are."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix.