Pickerington Times-Sun

Post 283 baseball team

Children's home visit teaches lesson beyond diamond

By MICHAEL HAYES
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For Chris Weber, head coach of the defending state champion Pickerington American Legion Post 283 baseball team, the sport is much more than balls and strikes, bunts and steals, winning or losing.

It's about preparing his players for the next level, both on the field and in life.

For the second year in a row, Weber took his players to spend some quality time with the young residents of the West Virginia Children's Home in Elkins, W. Va.

"The kids there are wards of the state," Weber said.

"They go to school there, eat there. It's not a prison, it's not a 'bad' place. Kids are there for various reasons, some not of their own doing," he said.

The team was there last month to compete in the "Hillbilly Hardball Classic" held June 14-16.

While the rigors of a competitive baseball tournament would make any team entirely justified in filling downtime by relaxing back at their hotel, Weber chose another route by having his team visit the Children's Home.

"When we have a gap between games, we make an effort to give back a little," Weber said.

Once complimentary gloves, balls and hats were distributed by the team, it wasn't long before an informal picnic with the residents gave way to an equally informal softball game.

"They got a little field there," Weber said.

"First and third base are on a hillside and home plate is in a valley," he said.

"All of that doesn't matter. It was just a bunch of kids playing ball, having a good time," he said.

All good old-fashioned fun, except the kids from the West Virginia Children's Home have faced challenges that Weber's players never could imagine.

"When they meet a 12-year old kid who never really knew what a parent is, that's humbling," Weber said.

Getting his players ready to compete at the next level, meaning college, is certainly Weber's mission. However, there are bigger stakes at play, he said.

"Balls and strikes -- that's the easy part," Weber said.

"That's what we're able to do, but we're capable of doing more. When these kids show up on a college campus, it won't be just about them. This is an opportunity to expose them to something bigger," Weber said.

Last year his players were moved by the testimony of one girl who was in the Children's Home because both of her parents were hard-core drug addicts.

"All of our kids don't have to deal with that. They come from great families, they're great kids," he said.

The visit puts things in perspective for both Weber and his players.

"It just really has an impact," he said, adding his players quickly realize that "maybe mom and dad are pretty good and maybe all the things they have issues with are not really issues at all."

He said the highlight of the trip was still playing baseball, but with the added benefit of a built-in fan base of around 30 kids from the Children's Home in the stands, cheering for Pickerington Post 283.

"They had T-shirts with our logo on it and made signs," Weber said.

"To see those kids (wearing) our baseball hat, that was pretty neat," he said.

Creating memories with children in need pretty much trumps anything else, including winning, Weber said.

"We win a lot. We fill trophy cases, buy rings. All those things are temporary," Weber said.

"The impact of this visit far outweighs anything we do."

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