On Jan. 25, the Reds Community Fund, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Pitch In For Baseball & Softball (PIFBS) distributed $57,500 worth of baseball and softball equipment to 42 varsity baseball and softball teams from 21 Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana and Ohio high schools, plus three youth sports organizations.
Thursday’s event at Griffin Elite in Erlanger, Ky., marked the eighth consecutive year these three partners have teamed up to help local high schools and youth organizations in the Tri-State area.
Among the Reds' guests in attendance were their first three selections in the 2023 MLB Draft who were in town as part of the annual Reds Caravan. Right-handers Rhett Lowder (No. 7 overall pick) and Ty Floyd (No. 38) and infielder Sammy Stafura (No. 43) all addressed the crowd, along with former Reds pitcher and member of 2023 Reds Hall of Fame class Bronson Arroyo.
Still just 19 years old, Stafura is only a few years older than the student athletes he spoke to, so he could relate to the importance of receiving such quality equipment.
“It’s a fresh start, just having all new equipment to go out there and train,” Stafura said. “Having that kind of equipment is super important to elevate your game to the next level. And it helps you have a lot of fun out there, which is the most important.”
The 16 Northern Kentucky schools that benefitted from the equipment drive were Augusta, Bellevue, Boone County, Campbell County, Dayton, Dixie Heights, Gallatin County, Grant County, Holmes, Holy Cross, Lloyd Memorial, Ludlow, Newport Central Catholic, Newport, Pendleton County and Scott. The four Indiana schools included this year were Milan, Rising Sun, Southern Ripley and Switzerland County, while Ohio was represented by Taylor High School. In addition, Ludlow Athletic Club, Bellevue Vets and Grant County Little League received support.
“We’re in our eighth year of this wonderful program and it means a lot to us,” said Tony Wyott, assistant vice president of patient services for St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “We’re proud to be able to give back to the young student athletes across northern Kentucky, southeast Indiana and now Cincinnati as well. Seeing all this equipment and the excitement on these athletes’ faces makes me remember my own days on the ballfield. Baseball was my first sports passion, and it’s exciting to come full circle with an event like this.”
The Reds Community Fund and St. Elizabeth Healthcare both invest dollars annually in the program to assist amateur baseball and softball in Greater Cincinnati, and PIFBS helps make those dollars go even further with their relationships with top equipment manufacturers. Donated equipment included baseballs, softballs, bats, helmets, gloves, cleats, catcher’s gear, portable practice nets, compression sleeves and more.
“Being a part of a smaller private school, the equipment we get today is very important, because it allows us to acquire up-to-date, current equipment that helps us to become competitive, grow and thrive as a team,” said Evie Thomas, a junior softball player from Holy Cross High School and the Reds' RBI softball program.
The annual equipment drive is one of many events spearheaded by PIFBS, a nonprofit based out of Philadelphia. The nonprofit seeks to remove equipment as a barrier to playing baseball and softball by providing gear to underprivileged and at-risk kids in schools throughout the country and internationally. PIFBS has donated over $30 million in equipment across all 50 states and 120 countries around the world. The group helps approximately 200,000 kids stateside and internationally and expects to surpass more than two million by year’s end.
“This program started eight years ago with just 20 teams and has now grown to help over 40 teams annually with the gear they need to play,” PIFBS director of strategic partnerships Mike Moran said. “We’ve helped donate close to $400,000 of equipment since 2017 and helped over 10,000 children play ball in northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana. We’re continuously grateful for this partnership and for the coaches and parents out there that make our work possible. We can provide the equipment, but don’t have the impact on the kids that you do.”
Beyond the Reds Community Fund, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and PIFBS, the event is also made possible through a partnership with In-Game Sports. The regional amateur sports event group helps coordinate the communication with the schools and manages the event setup at Griffin Elite.
This year’s event featured an unexpected bonus when Arroyo played some original music for the attendees. In addition to being a Reds Hall of Famer and World Series champion, the former pitcher is a singer-songwriter who performs around the Greater Cincinnati area throughout the year with the Bronson Arroyo Band.
Guitar in hand, Arroyo spoke to the teenagers about the importance of enjoying these moments and making sure they find other interests outside of baseball. The game doesn’t last forever, even for ballplayers as successful as Arroyo, so he chose a long time ago to lean into music. He performed two new original songs before fielding questions to wrap up the program.