Rays, KaBOOM! teaming up to build playground

Rays, KaBOOM! teaming up to build playground

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will step away from Tropicana Field on Friday morning. They'll roll up their collective sleeves, and get to work.

Yes, it's that time of year: KaBOOM!

For the seventh consecutive year, the Rays will participate with KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that works to bring balanced and active play into the daily lives of all children, particularly those growing up in poverty, to help construct a playground in the Tampa Bay area. This year's playground will be located at University Area Harvest Hope Park.

More than 200 volunteers from the Rays, Bank of America and the University Area Community Development Corporation, Inc. will pitch in to work together. Included among the volunteers will be Rays outfielder Mallex Smith.

"This day has the benefit of bringing all of our staff together to work together outside of the office, doing something really good for the community," Rays team president Brian Auld said. "We divide into teams not based on department, but just randomly. So you get people who don't often get the chance to work together working on things. You get folks having an opportunity to show off some of their specific skill sets that are appropriate to playground-building that people might not know about.

"It winds up being just a ton of fun for our staff, and a great bonding opportunity for us. But I think what makes it all worthwhile is at the end of the day, we look up all of a sudden and there's a playground for children who otherwise wouldn't have one. And that's a pretty wonderful thing to pull all together."

Since 1996, KaBOOM! has collaborated with partners to build, open or improve more than 16,700 playgrounds, engage more than a million volunteers and serve 8.5 million kids.

Auld originally got involved with KaBOOM! when he was working as the lead teacher and director of development at East Palo Alto (Calif.) Charter School. In the early 2000s, he sucessfully wrote a grant to attract KaBOOM! to Palo Alto.

"To this day, that's one of the highlights of my entire professional career," Auld said. "So it's pretty neat to have been on the other side of it. I was able to see first-hand what giving a playground to kids who don't have one really does. Not just for the kids who get to play on it, but for the entire surrounding community. And having been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of it, it's just wonderful and personally fulfilling to me to be on the providing side of it, too. I couldn't be more grateful for [Rays principal owner] Stu [Sternberg] and his family foundation for providing support to do that year after year.

"I think we're now one of the larger playground funders of KaBOOM! in the country, and we're really proud of the number we've put up in the Tampa Bay region."

Auld made sure to also recognize the efforts of Bill Goede and Ann Shaler from Bank of America.

"They are partnering with us on this one," Auld said. "So for the first time, we are bringing in one of our great corporate partners, and a bank we work with on all sorts of community endeavors as well, to do this together. And Bill and Ann have just been fantastic to work with, and we look forward to having our employees out there working with a lot of Bank of America employees."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.