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B.A.T. dinner celebrates organization's important work

NEW YORK -- It began as an idea almost three decades ago. A simple idea really, a basic one. Baseball must take care of its own.

"We're members of the same family," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said.

From that simple, wonderful notion came the Baseball Assistance Team, aka, B.A.T. In the years since, more than $29 million has been collected from various sources.

No other professional sport has anything close to B.A.T. And the amazing thing is that the people who do the giving seem as fulfilled as those receiving it.

"Guys give from the bottom of their hearts," Bob Watson said. "All kinds of things happen to people in life. Baseball is a microcosm of life. To be involved, this really is an honor."

Some of the money has been raised at dinners like the 25th Annual Going to Bat for B.A.T. Dinner on Tuesday at the Marriott Marquis.

More than $15 million has been donated by active players. Thanks to all that generosity, 3,100 baseball people -- coaches, scouts, players, front-office employees, umpires, trainers and others -- have gotten assistance.

Medical bills have been paid for children. Homes have been rebuilt. Lives have been rearranged. Virtually all the assistance has been anonymous.

Baseball again did itself proud again on Tuesday. People came from all over. Some of them made millions in the game. Others have needed help along the way.

They came to sign autographs and mingle with fans and to explain why this work is important to them.

"I think the word 'Dignity' is important," Steve Garvey said. "At a simpler time, there wasn't a lot of money made, and there wasn't a lot of benefits. These men needed help. We want the players that laid the foundation for the way the game is today to live out their lives in dignity, and for us to revere and respect them."

There was laughter and some tears, too. Current players Michael Young and Jimmy Rollins were honored for their charitable work.

The late Michael Weiner, former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was remembered for his brilliance and decency.

"Mike was so grateful to be part of your family," his widow, Diane, said.

Commissioner Bud Selig was honored by B.A.T. with an award to be given annually in his name for a club executive who contributes to B.A.T.

Selig was given the first of those awards, and in his acceptance speech, emphasized that he has always seen baseball as way more than a game.

"It is a social institution with important social responsibilities," Selig said. "Baseball has embraced its responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others."

Rusty Staub was there at the beginning of B.A.T.

"To see where this organization has come is incredible," he said. "It's people that care about the game of baseball. The baseball community knows we have people that need us to do this."

Former Major Leaguer Tike Redman told the story of his daughter, Jalyn, being diagnosed with cancer five years ago. She was 11 at the time.

His career with the Pirates and Orioles had ended by then. He and his wife, Lesley, had no idea what they were going to do.

That's when a former teammate, Michael Gonzalez, told them about B.A.T. Help soon arrived.

Jalyn has been cancer free for five years, and B.A.T. also helped Redman land a youth coaching job in Atlanta.

"I'm very thankful," he said. "I thought I was written off, forgotten about. But it's amazing that people you played with or against still remember you."

An assortment of Hall of Famers showed up, including Roberto Alomar and Orlando Cepeda.

Barry Lyons was here, too. He played seven seasons for four different teams. Seven years ago, after Katrina destroyed his home in Biloxi, Miss., he reached out to B.A.T.

"It's very personal for me," Lyons said. "They helped me when I needed help in a very real way."

Once upon a time, the late former Yankee Bobby Murcer believed the work of B.A.T. was so important he would travel to every Spring Training camp to encourage players to sign up for a payroll-deduction plan.

Thanks in part to that program, players will donate around $2 million this year.

"I entered this family in '03 and was told I was entering a unique family," Jones said. "To be able to work with B.A.T., you get up close and personal with people and their families. You get to help rebuild lives. If you're part of this family, we're going to treat you as family. That's how it should be."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.