The Fresno Grizzlies are known for making headlines, usually involving something with the word “tacos.” But behind the scenes, as a member of the Grizzlies Community Advisory Board, I’ve gotten to see the good work they’ve been doing much more quietly throughout the Valley.
The Grizzlies Community Fund is the nonprofit arm of the team. Started in 2004, it has six main programs and several other events that benefit children and organizations in Fresno and beyond. Ahead of their biggest fundraising event of the year, Hot Stove Gala, I sat down with Community Fund Director Whitney Campbell to talk more about what the organization does.
Wild About Reading
When the Community Fund began, the main program was focused on literacy and getting kids to read in the classroom. Today, Wild About Reading reaches 102,000 kids a year, making it one of the largest reading programs in minor league baseball, according to Campbell.
“Parker and our staff go out to most schools to do a kickoff assembly,” Campbell says. “And the challenge is to read 10 books in five weeks.”
Once students meet this goal, they receive two tickets to a Grizzlies game on one of several designated Wild About Reading days. There, they have the chance to win prizes and be honored as Outstanding Readers.
Reading Heart, an organization started by a young girl named Danay Ferguson that accepts book donations, is on hand to give out free books to students who bring back their bookmarks from the program. Participants run from kindergartners to eighth-graders.
“I think a lot of times with technology now, kids get away from reading,” Campbell says. “And we really wanted to reinforce it from the very beginning.”
Junior Grizzlies Baseball
The other flagship program of the Community Fund is the Junior Grizzlies baseball league for people ages 4-60 with disabilities. Though it’s non-competitive baseball, to ensure safety, players are put into 10 “major” and “minor” league teams based on skill level.
For $50, players participate in a spring training event, eight weeks of games at the Field of Dreams in Clovis, an awards luncheon and home run derby, and a Junior Grizzlies Day with a pre-game parade at Chukchansi Park. They also receive a t-shirt, hat, trophy, and team photos.
“It’s for people with disabilities, so it’s mental, physical, anything like that,” Campbell says. “You see them playing out on the field, and you wouldn’t even know. It’s just the time of their life.”
The highlight of Junior Grizzlies is the Home Run Derby at the end of the season, which takes place at Chukchansi Park with the help of professional Grizzlies players.
“I think the Grizzlies players have as much fun as the kids do … It’s all volunteer basis for the Fresno Grizzlies players, and so we don’t pay them,” Campbell says. “We don’t really ask anything of them but just to come out and hang out with them. It’s great.”
Sign ups for Junior Grizzlies begin next week.
In addition to these premiere programs, the Community Fund has many other projects, including:
- Silent auctions of the Grizzlies’ ever-popular theme jerseys with proceeds donated to nonprofits around the Valley.
- Farm Grown, which highlights both the Astros’ talented farm system and the Valley’s agricultural roots. Farm Grown Fridays bring a farmer’s market to Grizzlies games, farm forums are held to highlight important issues, and there’s even a community garden that’s in its rebuilding stages right now, with the goal of donating vegetables to local food banks.
- A twice-yearly baseball camp for 5- to 14-year-olds run by Grizzlies players and coaches.
- Swing For Kids, in which the Community Fund takes game tickets donated by businesses and season ticket holders and gives them to deserving charities and organizations.
Hot Stove Gala Helps Make it All Possible
All of these great initiatives need funding, of course. In addition to sponsorships, a golf tournament, and bi-annual Manager’s Luncheons, the biggest fundraiser of the year is the Community Fund’s Hot Stove Gala.
Campbell calls it the “unofficial kick-off for baseball season.” Taking place at the Fresno Convention Center on February 2, 2017, from 5 to 9 p.m., the 56th anniversary dinner will have several guest speakers, including Giants great Matt Williams, Astros (and former Grizzlies) pitcher Joe Musgrove, and Hanford’s own Grizzlies player Tyson Perez.
Tickets are $75 each with VIP mixer tickets available for $100 (this includes two drink tickets and a meet-and-greet opportunity with featured guests). I’ve been to this event before and am planning to go again this year, not because I’m a board member but because it really is such a great time for anyone who likes baseball!
“It’s a great, fun-filled night talking about baseball, talking about the upcoming season, and talking about the Community Fund and what we’re doing here in the Central Valley,” Campbell says.
To buy tickets to Hot Stove or to sign up for or support any of the Community Fund programs mentioned above, you can email Whitney Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her directly at (559) 320-2574. Tickets can be purchased until the day of the event, but fans are encouraged to buy early as the gala can sell out!
Hot Stove Gala Giveaway
The Grizzlies Community Fund has been extra generous to FresYes readers, and has given us two tickets to the 56th Anniversary Hot Stove Gala to give away.
To enter, you must be a subscriber to the FresYes Insider. Sign-up details are available in this post. Details on how to enter will arrive in Saturday’s newsletter. Good luck!
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