BAT hosts 19th annual awards dinner

BAT hosts awards dinner

NEW YORK -- Scott Hodges is the type of guy you root for, and back in his playing days, there was ample reason to root. He had a powerful bat, a big league dream and one heck of an opportunity.

He also had cancer.

Things weren't always this way, of course. One day, he was just like any other Minor Leaguer, aching for a chance that might never come. The next, he was battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, wanting -- no, needing -- only to survive.

"I thought I was as good as anyone out there, right on the verge of making it to the big leagues," Hodges said. "I was going to big league camp and doing well. But sometimes it's just not meant to be."

Everyone hears about the guys who make it -- the guys who sign fat contracts, live the good life and ultimately become stars. But there's not a whole lot written about those who don't -- the guys who play for years in the Minors only to fall just short.

For most of them, a normal life awaits -- some anonymous existence in some anonymous town. Yet, for others, like Hodges, fate isn't even that kind. Suddenly out of baseball and facing piles of hospital bills, the future looked bleak for a man who spent his entire adult life working for a small stipend in the Minor Leagues.

Then, a few days later, everything seemed better. Somebody in the know sent a tip to the Baseball Assistance Team, which in turn contacted Hodges and let him know how they could help. They paid for his bills and gave him proper care. And they let him know that while he may not have been a ballplayer anymore, he was certainly still a person.

"You don't know where that money's coming from," Hodges said. "You have no job. It just takes care of small bills, but you can sleep a little better at night when you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay for your insurance, or pretty much live your normal day-to-day life.

"It's just the comfort zone of knowing that everything would be OK in the future, and I just had to worry about getting well."

Those comforts were thanks to B.A.T., which on Tuesday celebrated its 19th annual awards dinner at New York's Marriott Marquis hotel. The program is dedicated to assisting former baseball players, coaches and others associated with the game who need financial help, and since its inception in 1986, has provided more than $16 million worth of grants to more than 2,100 people.

"As you well know, baseball is family," said former Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer, the program's current chairman. "You live with these guys in the clubhouse in the season more than you do at home with your family and your wife and kids. We get very close, and we consider each other family -- and if you're family and you're hurting, you want to help somebody. So that's what B.A.T. does."

On Tuesday, the program honored two of those who have helped the most. Mets third baseman David Wright won B.A.T.'s Bart Giamatti Award for his service work with the organization, while Nationals first baseman Dmitri Young took home the Frank Slocum Award for exemplary service to the program.

More than 125 current and former players made their way into Manhattan to honor those two as well as pay their tributes to members of the Tigers' and Cardinals' 1968 World Series teams.

"This is more than just baseball here," Young said. "These are real-life situations. We're all family here, and what better way to take care of each other than to give just a little bit."

While anyone can contribute money, from teammates -- "I kind of bully them," Young joked -- right on down to fans, only players can act as the program's eyes and ears. That's why Young and Wright spend clubhouse time each year searching for stories of anyone who could use B.A.T.'s assistance.

Slowly, the word is spreading, and through their work, someone like Hodges can look up one day and see that B.A.T. has reached out to him -- and not the other way around. While the program keeps everything confidential, there's no hiding the fact that the need is great, and the help is coming.

"For every one Dmitri Young, there are probably hundreds of Minor League kids who don't make it," Wright said. "And playing in the Minor Leagues, there's not much money out there. So we try to help out our own. It's a big fraternity."

And as for Hodges, he's doing just fine. With B.A.T. supporting him every step of the way, the former ballplayer has been free of cancer for 2 1/2 years now, his life once again intact. Yes, those Major League dreams are long since gone, but so many other hopes have been fulfilled in their wake.

"Word is getting out," Murcer said. "We've got more grants today than we ever had. We're helping more people. We're raising more money. If we could tell you about some of the people that we've helped, and the situations that they were in, we'd all be crying today."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.