It was not Santa in a red suit but rather seven Westhill baseball players wearing purple and gold jerseys outside the Boys & Girls Club in Stamford delivering some holiday magic.
Sparked by an idea from their coach Mike Riveles and thanks to a generous donation, Westhill players passed out new baseball gloves and baseballs to children at both the Boys & Girls Club and the Yerwood Center Tuesday afternoon.
“I am good friends with Mitch Hoffman who lives in New Canaan and runs 84 Sports. They were looking to get rid of some inventory and Mitch knew I was connected in the Stamford leagues,” Riveles said. “Of course we are always interested in baseball equipment. When I went to pick it up, there was way more than I expected. Everything was brand new and I thought ‘there is more I can do with this than just donating it (to Stamford baseball leagues).’”
Hoffman, a former Westhill player and the former head baseball coach at New Canaan, donated 60 baseball and softball gloves, the Westhill team raised the money to buy 60 more and Riveles came up with the plan to pass them out.
The Boys & Girls Club was the perfect fit as it provides a place to go for children from communities that are largely not playing baseball in Stamford right now.
Steve Basquiat is the sports director at the Boys & Girls Club and said while basketball and football are very popular among the children at the Club, baseball is foreign to many of them.
“Baseball is one of the sports that a lot of the kids that we serve don’t get the opportunity to play or really even get the opportunity to understand” Basquiat said. “We play in a few leagues but one the main things we run into is equipment issues. For him to come out here and give every kid an opportunity to get a ball and a glove is great.”
Riveles saw the same void to fill in term of bringing baseball back to under-served communities but also an overall decline in participation.
“Given that the Stamford Little League’s numbers are down and representation is down I was thinking if we could get some gloves in the hands of some kids who might not typically buy one or might not sign up for baseball,” Riveles said. “If this gives some kid some incentive to sign up and play then that would be awesome. Numbers are down not just in Stamford but numbers are down everywhere, especially in the under represented communities numbers are way down. If giving gloves away can help change that and get a kid to experience the game we all love and has been so good to us then, bonus.”
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, small groups of children in masks from the Club came out to get their gloves, all being greeted by the Westhill players behind masks.
Players asked the children if they were left or right-handed as they gave new gloves and baseballs, much to the delight of the kids.
The game is so off the radar of some kids that they were not sure how to put the gloves on.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Westhill senior Ryan Ebright said. “Baseball is a great activity. I loved playing baseball growing up and when I found out we could give the gift of baseball which I had growing up, to younger kids, I jumped on that. I knew it was I wanted to do. I really enjoyed playing Little League in Stamford. It’s a great baseball town.”
While Ebright and his teammates cherished being able to give back to the community, getting to be together as a team after missing all of last season was pretty great too.
“Last year our season got canceled. Our teammates are our brothers so any time we get to be near them, we always laugh and have a great time. Any opportunity we have to be with each other, we jump on that,” Ebright said. “Stamford really defines who I am. I like to be a leader because there were people in my life who were leaders for me. When get the opportunity to be a leader to younger kids, I really look forward to giving out the gloves today.”
Riveles, popped in to the gymnasium during the event, reporting back that some of the kids were already tossing the balls to each other or up to themselves.
“Who knows, the next Mookie Betts might be in there,” Riveles said.