DENVER -- The very first time someone walks into a big league ballpark, they’re invariably in awe of the lush green field opening up before them -- often right in the middle of the city. So it’s appropriate on that and many other levels that Major League Baseball is committed to “greening” the parks and the communities around them.
John Schwarz, community affairs senior coordinator for MLB, referred to the league's efforts in sustainability as a way for MLB to hold itself accountable for addressing climate change while furthering its goal of building community. MLB covered all the bases on Friday, putting its commitment into action with a volunteer event in Denver to create an outdoor classroom in the community garden at Morey Middle School, blocks from the heart of downtown. They planted trees and other plants, did some hands-on composting and prepared a space for picnic tables in the middle of the garden for students and community members to immerse themselves in an experiential classroom.
Between 30 and 40 volunteers turned out and got a boost out of getting back outside, getting some human interaction and putting their hands to work for the community. It was a great turnout on a day with a high temperature of 102 degrees expected. Together with two other sustainability events elsewhere in the city, MLB easily exceeded its goal of mobilizing 75 volunteers as part of its effort to invest in the community.
“MLB has always looked to leave a lasting legacy in the community -- and the All-Star Green Team is part of that,” said Schwarz said. “We just want to leave something behind. After the All-Star Game is over and the last pitch is thrown, the last out is made and we leave, we want to make sure that Denver and surrounding areas have had an impact other than just great ballpark events.”
They turned to two local organizations -- Spark the Change Colorado and Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) -- to help them put the right project together on the ground.
“It's just amazing to see a turnout like this,” said Lara Fahnestock, senior director of operations at DUG. “Especially with younger generations, it seems like there's a real emphasis on giving back and caring for the climate and being out here doing something like this. Great way to do both of those.”
DUG coordinates 188 community gardens in the Denver metro area -- and those gardens produce over 600,000 pounds of food, much of which goes to food banks. But this project had been on their wish list for years.
“Having the space for teaching students where their food comes from will be a great way to increase their awareness of hunger and what they can do to help,” Fahnestock said.
Spark the Change Colorado, the other partner in the event, encourages volunteerism in every kind of activity imaginable.
“Our mission really is to use volunteerism as a strategy to meet needs in the community and to build peace, equity and inclusivity,” said Kelly Groen, director of mental wellness at Spark the Change Colorado. “We engage volunteers in those areas of need and respond to the needs with the skills of volunteers.”
Some of the volunteers were clearly inspired to participate because of their love of the game. There was plenty of purple pride on display, as community members dug into the soil and prepped the earth for a tree that will hopefully still be providing shade in 100 years.
But just as MLB and the Rockies introduced their faithful to sustainable gardening, the introductions went both ways.
“I don’t know baseball, but I love gardening,” said one volunteer.
Jackie Rader just loves volunteering. She spends the bulk of her volunteer time as a high school ultimate frisbee coach, but this event jumped out to her when she heard about it. She came out to volunteer with three colleagues from work.
“The more that we can do with community gardens and communities that really need them, the better,” Rader said. “There's some weird food deserts in urban areas, so the more that you can provide community gardens, the more you tackle that issue of a food desert.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” defined “legacy” as “planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” MLB may never see what grows out of the garden planted on Friday -- and the volunteers themselves may not even see the fruits of their efforts. But they can take satisfaction in knowing those seeds will grow and contribute to the community for generations to come.