ST. PETERSBURG -- A crowd cheered for the Rays, but the Saturday afternoon gathering in Tarpon Springs, Fla., wasn't cheering on David Price or Evan Longoria, they were showing their appreciation for the organization and the efforts of those from the ballclub for helping out its community.
The Rays are active in the community throughout the year, but the holidays seem to bring out the best in the organization. On Nov. 16, more than 200 volunteers from the Rays, Citizens Alliance for Progress, organizers from KaBOOM! and residents of the Tarpon Springs community joined forces to build a new playground at Union Academy Family Center. The new playground's design was based on drawings created by children who participated in a Design Day event that took place two months earlier.
The new playground will provide a safe place to play for more than 300 children in the Tarpon Springs community. Prior to the playground's construction, those same children served did not have a playground to enjoy.
Despite having to fight nasty weather, volunteers could be seen moving and raking tons of mulch, planting a vegetable garden that will grow broccoli, bell peppers and herbs, and doing anything else necessary to bring the park to life. Just like any other year, Stu Sternberg could be counted among those in the working force, as the Rays' principal owner believes in community service and giving back.
By the end of the day, Sternberg, Tarpon Springs mayor David Archie, and Citizens Alliance for Progress president Thomas McKone stood in front of the gathering during the ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the event. In recognition of the Rays, Sternberg was awarded the key to the city.
"The Rays place a great emphasis on giving back to our community, doing our part to make Tampa Bay a better place to live, work and play," team president Matt Silverman said. "Getting our hands dirty and erecting a playground each year is just one example, and it's one that has lasting, tangible impacts. For years to come, children in Tarpon Springs will have a fun safe play environment -- that's priceless."
The playground was the fourth built by the Rays and KaBOOM! in the Tampa Bay region and one of more than 150 playground builds KaBOOM! will complete across the country in 2013 in an effort to provide playgrounds within walking distance of every child in America.
The initiative to get involved with KaBoom! stemmed from the Rays sharing a core belief with KaBoom! that children need a place to play every day in order to be active and healthy. KaBoom! began in 1996 after recognizing a need to help today's kids, who spent less time playing outside than any previous generation. A big part of that fact could be attributed to the fact very few lived within walking distance of a park or playground. Such deficits could be cited for having profound consequences for kids physically, socially and cognitively.
"Our playground builds are the collective efforts of our entire front-office staff, and without their support, these builds wouldn't be possible," said Jenn Tran, the Rays' director of human resources. "Having just completed our fourth playground build with KaBoom!, we feel a tremendous sense of pride in knowing that we are bringing communities together in a very meaningful way. And at the end of the day, in the span of about six hours, we leave with a not only a incredible sense of accomplishment, but a fantastic place for kids to play."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.