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Giving kids the world in a worn leather mitt


This is a glove story. It is about people with too many baseball gloves and people without any, and a gentle touch of compassion in a tough world.

It starts on a dusty field in the Dominican Republic. The Orioles' young Dominican signees had gathered for a workout on a warm morning last December. I was there with a notebook. A Sun photographer, Kenneth Lam, was there with a camera.

Some younger kids, grade schoolers, played catch on the sidelines while they watched, dodging goats and foul balls. Many were barefoot and wore dirty clothes, but they threw hard, with a professional snap, and caught with a casual confidence.

They were so adept that, on a normal glance, you would never notice some of their gloves were made of cardboard.

Not the thin stuff that comes inside a new button-down shirt, but the corrugated brown board of which boxes are made. Dominican kids find it on the street, stack two or three layers and open a hole at the bottom for their hand. Then they bend it in a semicircle, creating a web.

It's the only way to work on your defense when your family barely has enough money for beans and rice.

"Hey, look," Kenneth Lam said that morning as we sat in the dugout, pointing to a kid playing catch in foul ground. "That's not leather, that's cardboard."

The picture he took -- of an 11-year-old named Eddie Reyes deep in concentration as he caught a tattered ball in his cardboard glove -- ran on Page 1 of The Sun's Christmas Day sports section, as part of a series on baseball in the Dominican, where the game brings much joy to people who sleep on dirt floors.

My phone started ringing that next week.

DTC "My son saw that picture," said one man, "and said it just wasn't fair that these kids had to play with gloves like that."

The man told me his son had gone around the neighborhood collecting used gloves from friends, and wanted to send them down to the Dominican.

"How old is your son?" I asked.

"Seven," he said. "My boy just turned 7."

I gave him the address of Carlos Bernhardt, the Orioles' Dominican scout. He is a bighearted man who would happily find kids that needed gloves. I didn't even need to call and ask.

The phone rang again a couple of days later. And a couple of days after that. Same thing: People were wondering if they could do something. Scare up some gloves. Send them to the kids. Make a life better.

Then one day the voice on the other end of the phone was Chuck Lippy, a member of the Oriole Advocates, a group that supports the club and promotes local amateur baseball, sponsoring trips and donating money for equipment.

"I got a couple of calls the night that picture ran in the paper," he said. "People wanting to help. That got me thinking. This was right up our alley."

He approached the Orioles about the Advocates putting together a night at the new stadium, a night when, instead of getting something to take home, fans brought something from home to give to someone else. An old glove. A bat. A ball. Even one catcher's shinguard. Anything they didn't need anymore.

The idea would be to send it all down to the Dominican, where it would instantly become nothing less than gold.

"I know I've got three or four old gloves sitting around," he said. "That's just not right when somewhere there are kids playing with cardboard gloves."

The Orioles gave a preliminary thumbs-up. A meeting was held last week to begin arranging details. Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin was just back from a Dominican scouting trip.

"You can't begin to realize how important it would be to all these kids," he said. "If you show up on the street with gloves and balls to give away, you'll have 300 kids pulling on your pant leg within 10 minutes. You'll be like Santa Claus."

There are, of course, a thousand issues. Bernhardt might need a suit of armor to hand the stuff out. And you can't reconcile sending equipment elsewhere when there are recreation centers Baltimore starving for the same things. Hopefully, both needs can be met.

Then there is the very tricky matter of getting the stuff down to the Dominican. There has been some local corporate interest shown in paying the shipping costs, but someone must go along. The Orioles recently sent 10 dozen balls to Bernhardt. They never made it.

"Balls, bats, any kind of equipment is just so rare and valuable down there," Melvin said. "I imagine someone saw the balls and, well, you can figure it out."

Yes. We can. We also can figure out what a beat-up glove gathering dust in an attic in Baltimore would mean to a kid like Eddie Reyes. I can close my eyes and see his face: eyes on the catch of a lifetime.

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