Seattle Mariners’ All Star pitcher Felix Hernandez with (l to r): Bev Newsome (District 8 Challenger Division Director), Michael Popa (District 9 Challenger player), Bob Toigo (District 9 District Administrator and Little League International Board Member), Chuck Studebaker (District 9 Challenger Program Director) and Nick Hawley (District 8 Challenger Player).
The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has developed the MLBPA Players Going Home Series, which allows Major League Baseball (MLB) to make a donation to local, hometown organizations in the name of deserving players. This year, Seattle Mariners All-Star pitcher, and Little League® graduate, Felix Hernandez, with the help and support of the Mariners’ Community Relations Department, donated 30 percent of his grant to two local Little League Challenger Division® programs.
A total of $30,000 was donated to Seattle-area District 8 and District 9 ($15,000 each) to help commemorate 25 years of Washington State Little League Challenger Baseball, and to help with funding for fields and annual Jamborees. For 30 years, the Mariners and Little League have had a strong relationship, and both organizations believe all children should have the opportunity to play organized baseball, and have fun on the diamond, playing the sport they love with their friends.
In addition to donating to the local area Seattle Challenger Division programs, “King Felix”, though the MLBPA Players Going Home Series, also donated $10,000 to the Seattle Central Little League.
“Felix Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners and the MLBPA all believe that baseball is, and should continue to be an all-inclusive sport,” said Bob Hellinger, Seattle Mariners Director, Business Development. “Providing funding for the local Challenger program and serving the needs of special needs players and providing funding for Seattle Central Little League, and the needs of inner city youth is a step towards fulfilling that goal.”
For Chuck Studebaker, Little League District 9 Program Director, the generous donation was heartfelt, inspiring, and very appreciated, but not overly surprising.
“This is an incredible gesture, but because the Mariners have always been so good to Little League, I was not surprised they went to such lengths,” said Mr. Studebaker. “The organization is such an important resource, and it provides us so much. Each year the Mariners have several Little League days where our teams get to walk around the field prior to the game. The Challenger kids are included, and they love it. I can’t stress enough how important the continued growth of the Challenger Division is. It’s such a great outlet for the kids. The players love it. The ‘Buddies’ who help the players love it. Parents love it. There are smiles everywhere. Generous donations like the one from Felix and the Mariners will go a long way in continuing those smiles.”
Mr. Studebaker explained that the $30,000 donation will be used to help build a field for the Challenger players, as well as buy uniforms and hats. And, while Mr. Studebaker and the Challenger players were in awe at meeting their hometown hero at the donation presentation, it was Mr. Hernandez who felt humbled.
“So many people helped me become a Major League player,” said Mr. Hernandez, who played at Flor Amarillo Little League in Venezuela. “I want to return the favor by helping to give kids today the chance to play baseball.”
Little League's Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school, to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide.