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Baseball Tomorrow Fund helps build community

Grant gives poverty-ridden area a new ball field, fresh start
MLB.com

ABOUT FORD HEIGHTS
Ford Heights Park District serves a community that is statistically among the most impoverished suburbs in the United States and has long been underserved in terms of economic development and social opportunities. The hamlet of just under 3,000 people rests in the southern suburbs of Chicago, IL, about 25 miles from the city. The organization currently offers baseball for youth 12 and under, and added a PONY level in the 2017 season for 13- and 14-year-old players.

A grant of $154,000 provided by the Baseball Tomorrow Fund helped to resurrect Excell Walker Field, which was overcome by glass in the infield and weeds in the outfield. On August 11, 2017, Ford Heights secured its victory in fine fashion - a ribbon-cutting ceremony with former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel on hand to present the community with their new field.

ABOUT FORD HEIGHTS
Ford Heights Park District serves a community that is statistically among the most impoverished suburbs in the United States and has long been underserved in terms of economic development and social opportunities. The hamlet of just under 3,000 people rests in the southern suburbs of Chicago, IL, about 25 miles from the city. The organization currently offers baseball for youth 12 and under, and added a PONY level in the 2017 season for 13- and 14-year-old players.

A grant of $154,000 provided by the Baseball Tomorrow Fund helped to resurrect Excell Walker Field, which was overcome by glass in the infield and weeds in the outfield. On August 11, 2017, Ford Heights secured its victory in fine fashion - a ribbon-cutting ceremony with former Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel on hand to present the community with their new field.

THE PROJECT
The lack of economic stability in Ford Heights has deprived its youth access to extra-curricular opportunities found in other communities. A feel-good story of the hamlet is its local youth team, the Ford Heights Pirates, which continues to rapidly grow in size and skill. The team has provided an unfamiliar feeling of success to a community that had grown accustomed to falling short.

However, the talent of the Pirates, who captured a championship in 2014, was being displayed elsewhere, as they were forced to team up with another organization miles away just so they had a place to play.

With the help of a coach determined to make a change and the Cook County Sheriff's Office -- which has served as the sole law enforcement agency in Ford Heights since 2008 -- the wheels were put in motion to restore a field, and a community.

Q&A WITH GEORGE "KIRBY" GREEN
George Green is Ford Heights Park District president and coach of the Ford Heights Pirates.

How and when did you get involved or become interested in baseball?
I became interested in baseball at a young age, being taught the game by my father. I remember playing in Ford Heights -- it's what we did as kids. There is so much history there.

Describe your organization's staff structure.
The Ford Heights Park District has five elected officials, none of which are paid. We also have volunteers who give their time. Our community drives us, and we want to make a difference. Our community needs help with its youth, and we strive to make a positive impact on their lives.

What agencies, organizations or companies provide support (financial or otherwise) to your organization?
We owe our field to the gratitude of many different organizations and people: the Baseball Tomorrow Fund; Cook County Sheriff's Department; Army Reserves from Kankakee, Illinois; Chicago Cubs Charities; and MLB pitcher Jason Hammel.

What was the biggest challenge for your organization?
The uncertainty that were we doing things correctly was tough because we were planning something we have never done before. Thankfully, Larissa Davis of the Cook County Sheriff's Department helped us execute a plan to accomplish this dream.

What was the biggest challenge during the project?
Our lack of manpower presented challenges throughout, and we feared that we would not be able to get the project completed on time. We owe this field to our dedicated volunteers.

How did the project affect your program?
This project goes beyond our baseball field. This is something all of Ford Heights can be proud of. And for our youth, they can take life lessons from what we have done. It's not just baseball -- it's a tool. We are using baseball as a tool to turn around our youth and keep them in school and off the streets.

What has been the most significant or important accomplishment of your organization?
The revitalization of our field has truly been the most significant accomplishment of the Ford Heights Park District. We have only been in existence since 2012, and we accomplished something very positive in a short amount of time. This is what park districts are supposed to do.

What's next for your organization?
We want to keep up the positive atmosphere and jump right into our next project. Ford Heights is already in the process of designing a youth center that can be utilized for after school activities and more sports.

What advice do you have for other organizations?
The advice I have for anyone else is simple: whatever it is you want to do, go out and do it. Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done. Put your best foot forward, get good people, and then go after it.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.