B.A.T. names March as Awareness Month

B.A.T. names March as Awareness Month

The Baseball Family always takes care of its own. The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), an organization dedicated to helping former players, scouts and employees of Major League Baseball who have fallen on hard financial times, has dedicated March as its first Awareness Month.

B.A.T. has dedicated itself to providing confidential support to people in economic distress since 1986. B.A.T., supported by both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, has awarded more than 3,000 grants to worthy individuals and more than $28 million for their economic recovery.

Where does that money come from? It comes from former players, executives and fans of the game, and every dollar raised is turned into a dollar of support for the needy constituency. B.A.T. encourages current players to donate to the cause through a payroll deduction program and also holds an annual fundraising dinner in New York, but March has been chosen to highlight the importance of the cause.

"The program works," said Joseph Grippo, the executive director of B.A.T. "Our best-case scenario is that everybody currently employed by a Major League Baseball organization -- right down to the Minor League affiliates -- at least has the information in their hands. Then they can read it. If they have the information in their hands, they can let us know if they or someone they know needs assistance."

B.A.T. will be sending out email blasts to raise awareness of its mission in March, and it encourages as many people as possible to donate to the program. Perhaps the most interesting part of the program is the people it reaches: If you've played in one Major League game, you're eligible.

But you may also apply if you have three years of service time as an umpire; Minor League player, coach or manager; a former Negro League player; or a full-time employee of a Major or Minor League club. Employees of MLB Network and MLB Productions are also eligible for support.

Here's the rub: Assistance for each grant recipient is confidential, so people often don't see the good work that B.A.T. is doing in the community. And that was the purpose of Awareness Month, an opportunity to spread the word about B.A.T.'s mission and its social importance.

Support has increased in recent years, and many people from many generations of the game have been helped. There are the players who played before the advent of the MLB pension plan, and members who have had to deal with debilitating illness for themselves or in their family.

Many of the people who wind up with grants are too proud to ask for assistance, and that's where their former teammates and co-workers come in. The B.A.T. representatives visit each Spring Training camp in February and March, and they underline the work they do in the community. That generally gets players thinking about people they have known along the way that need some kind of help.

B.A.T. doesn't just offer financial assistance; it also offers a state-of-the-art addiction recovery program that has helped more than 100 people overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling. "Sudden" Sam McDowell, a former star pitcher who overcame his own addictions and later earned degrees in sports psychology and addiction, presides over the B.A.T. addiction recovery program.

"So far, so good," said Grippo of the opening week of Awareness Month. "Our social media has climbed a bit, and our likes and followers have increased. It's one of those things where you've got to keep getting the word out. One day, when that time comes for somebody, that's when they come back and they remember the Baseball Assistance Team. And that's when we've done our job right."

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