David Rhode used to sell detergent. Now he sells the power of baseball.
Rhode is founder and executive director of Pitch In For Baseball, a charity that collects "gently used" baseball equipment and distributes it to teams around the world who have difficulties acquiring the gear necessary to play America's pastime. "We get stuff and we give it away," David says with a chuckle. "It's not meant to be complicated."
It may not be complicated, but it certainly has been successful. So far Pitch In For Baseball has supervised the delivery of more than 12,000 pieces of equipment to locations as diverse as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Rhode hit upon the idea after a stint as a marketing associate for Proctor and Gamble, and 12 years running the family automotive repair business. "I turned 40 and was looking for something more meaningful. After we sold the business, I met a local guy who was collecting baseball gloves for kids in Poland. I told him, 'That's a great idea. Can I steal it?'"
The man consented and a small door-to-door campaign in Philadelphia turned into a registered 501(c)(3) charity featuring Little League Baseball, Ace Hardware and Sports Illustrated for Kids as key partners.
For Rhode, the appeal wasn't just helping kids but doing so with a sport he believes has the power to affect real change in a community. "Baseball is different from other sports. It's a great classroom for kids to learn about adversity and teamwork."
Rhode should know. As a baseball coach, he has seen first hand the effects baseball can have on a child's psyche. "You can see real tangible results over a season. That's not always the case with other sports. When a kid catches a fly ball it's a really big deal."
It can be an even bigger deal in places like Kutno, Poland, where kids often use milk cartons for gloves, and U.S. Gulf Coast communities that remain devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
"One team I'll never forget is the one from D'Iberville, Mississippi. Just outside Biloxi," Rhode recounted when asked about some of his favorite endeavors, or "home runs" as the company calls them. "They lost everything and then got within one game of the Little League World Series. They sent us an e-mail on the eve of the district regional final thanking us. That was really cool. That was exactly why we do this."
Pitch In For Baseball doesn't search for any of the communities and teams they end up helping. "We rely on our partners to identify needs so we can respond." And the process used in screening possible recipients is as no-nonsense as Rhode himself. "We ask two questions, 'What do you need?' 'When do you need it by?'"
Rhode found, to his surprise, it's not the collection of the equipment that proved the most challenging. "People like making a connection that the glove in their garage can help other people." It was the delivery of the items that required the most planning and financial resource. "You wouldn't believe how expensive it is sending catcher's mitts to Israel," said Rhode
Still, Rhode is undaunted in his quest to help kids play baseball despite the obstacles that expensive equipment might pose. For this father of three, who never played baseball past the age of 12, that's better than selling detergent any day.
If you'd like to pitch in, check out the Pitch In For Baseball site. You can make a tax deductible contribution or organize an equipment- collection drive to help bring baseball eqiupment to underserved communities worldwide.