Each year, Highland Baseball Club Little League Challenger Division relied on the $2,000 grant it received from the city for operational support. The Evansville, Ind., league used the money to help sustain operations, providing its Challenger players a chance to enjoy the game they love. However, the program was dealt a blow when the grant was cut, but it wasn't strike three, they're out! The local news media reported on the cut, and that caught the attention of Lori Mattingly, and her six-time Major League Baseball All-Star husband, Don.
Mr. Mattingly, a former captain of the New York Yankees, is the manager of MLB’s Miami Marlins, but he and his wife still reside in Evansville, where they were born and raised. Mrs. Mattingly had attended some Highland Challenger games, and when she learned the city would no longer provide a grant, she saw an opportunity for Mattingly Charities to get involved.
“When I heard the passion in my wife’s voice when she was telling me about their Challenger program and their needs, I knew it was something we wanted to get involved in,” said Mr. Mattingly. “It’s an amazing program. We wanted to help.”
And, help they did!
On December 3, Mattingly Charities hosted An Intimate Evening with Friends, a charity event at the University of Southern Indiana. The evening's festivities included an appearance by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim great, Albert Pujols, and a performance by country music icon, Toby Keith. While there was plenty of star power at the event, the show was stolen when Don and Lori Mattingly presented Highland Baseball Club Challenger Division with a $25,000 donation.
"I had no idea what amount we were going to receive," said Matt Pokorney, president of the Highland Baseball Club Challenger Division, who joined the Mattingly's on stage along with Little League Challenger Division® player Owen George. "I was stunned. I was so excited, I lost what I was going to say. For all of his accomplishments, Don is a real down to earth guy. He and Lori still call Evansville home, they support our community, and obviously, support our league. We're all very grateful."
The $25,000 will be used to build an artificial turf infield for the Challenger players.
"People might not realize it, but rain can cause a lot of Challenger games to be cancelled," said Mr. Pokorney. "It's not like a regular Little League game where there can be a rain delay. Any amount of rain causes unsafe and difficult conditions for players who get around with crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair. I want our kids to be on the field as much as possible, playing and smiling. An artificial turf infield will allow them to have a lot of games. That's important because games help our kids build confidence, which translates into their lives."
The Highland Baseball Club Challenger Division has 111 players from its spring and fall programs with the goal of reaching 200. With the assistance from Mattingly Charities, that goal seems even more reachable.
“We hope the new turf infield will benefit all players in their league, and hopefully will attract new Challenger players, too,” said Mr. Mattingly. “The Highland Challenger program has grown so fast. Hopefully the new field helps keep them all playing.”