The bond between Major League Baseball and Puerto Rico is a strong one, and it's filled with passion and lots of history.And like a true family, the two sides have come together in a time of need. The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) stepped up to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane
The bond between Major League Baseball and Puerto Rico is a strong one, and it's filled with passion and lots of history.
And like a true family, the two sides have come together in a time of need. The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) stepped up to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year.
"Before the hurricane, we were probably averaging between 60-80 applications a month [in Puerto Rico]. Now, after the hurricane, we're looking at 120-150," said Erik Nilsen, executive director of B.A.T. "Us wanting to do what we can, we advised our grant committee and came up with a plan to offer disaster relief assistance."
B.A.T.'s plan for Puerto Rico includes help with food, water, medical bills and other supplies. B.A.T. also helps families rebuild their homes and much more.
"We're trying to find solutions for the situations down there, whether that's senior care or rebuilding people's homes," Nilsen said. "We are also trying to find situations where people can succeed. We've kind of looked at this with an open mind, and when we were down there, we asked the players, 'What more can we do to help you guys get back to where you need to be?'"
Created in 1986 by a group of former Major Leaguers, The Baseball Assistance Team was formed to confidentially help members of the baseball family in need of assistance. More than three decades later, the organization still provides members of the baseball family with medical, financial and psychological help, along with other types 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."
B.A.T. also assists front-office staff, umpires, scouts and trainers, but in Puerto Rico, the grant recipients have been primarily former Major League and Minor League players and their families.
"Especially in Puerto Rico, with everything that happened with the hurricane, mental health is something that we've also looked into," Nilsen said. "Obviously, the financial assistance is by far the biggest need. But medical-wise, there's a bunch of people down there that need medical assistance."
Nilsen, along with B.A.T. coordinator Vladimir Cruz and former Major League player Benny Ayala, who serves as the Puerto Rico consultant for the organization, toured the island in late May to assess the quality of assistance provided to grant applicants and recipients.
The trio visited with senior-age grant recipients on the first day and spoke to 16 grant recipients -- many of whom work in baseball as instructors for academies or provide individual instruction -- from the southern parts of the island on the second day of the visit. They also met with three more grant recipients from the San Juan metropolitan area.
"We weren't going down for recognition or to be thanked, but just to learn what's going on and how we can help people better," Nilsen said. "The applicants were just so grateful and so thankful and humble. We have the resources to help people, and actually going down and seeing it for ourselves made us realize there's so much work to be done down there."
The group met with more than 50 players at the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame Museum on the third day. There was also a visit with workers at the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy and at the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School on the final day of the trip to discuss their needs.
"The baseball family in Puerto Rico stays together, everybody tries to help each other," Ayala said. "We are a very close group and we're going to continue to help people."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.