Puerto Rican singers Marc Anthony and Bad Bunny direct the financing of a new program called Play Ball Again to help rebuild some damaged baseball fields and facilitate local programming for 17,500 young people.
Organizers hope to create "an upward spiral of opportunity" for local residents that goes far beyond the bench, according to Maurice A. Jones, president and CEO of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). English), which created Play Ball Again and is coordinating the development of work in the fields.
"Sports and recreational activities help restore a sense of normalcy after disasters," explained Marc Anthony, whose Maestro Cares Foundation is among the first promoters of the program. "Baseball is not just a game in this context. It is something that helps young people do better in school as well as improve family life and health in difficult circumstances."
Maestro Cares partnered with the Good Bunny Foundation and UNICEF USA to fund the first $ 300,000 of what LISC expects to be more than $ 1.6 million in baseball field renovations. Cubs Charities joined the effort with additional support of $ 100,000 and the Kohler Company pledged to donate bathroom accessories and furniture for the facility.
In summary, LISC anticipates that the financing will revitalize 25 baseball fields, including sites in Vega Baja, Carolina, Yabucoa, Yauco, Utuado, Loíza, Caguas and Castañer. These communities represent a diverse geographic sample of Puerto Rico, encompassing some of the most concentrated numbers of youth players in rural areas and those most affected by hurricanes. Field repairs will augment the broader community development work done by LISC and its local partners.
"Growing up on the island, I spent a lot of time in some of these parks that are now destroyed," said Bad Bunny, whose San Juan-based Good Bunny Foundation is gathering support for the initiative. “In parks similar to these, many great athletes like Roberto Clemente, Yadier Molina, Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martínez and Iván Rodríguez developed. Our commitment is to rebuild these parks so that we can help new athletes develop. This is the first step to the revival of sports on the island, "he said.
Construction is underway on the first six fields, with a renewed baseball schedule also underway.
"At UNICEF, we believe that playing is the right of all children, and sport is a powerful tool that can strengthen a community and bring people together," said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA. "We are incredibly grateful for the support of partners like LISC, Maestro Cares and the Good Bunny Foundation. By rebuilding these fields, they are not only helping a community that has suffered so much in the past two years, but they are also giving children the opportunity to play and be children ".
"Two years after these devastating storms, there continues to be a strong need to rebuild the island," said Cubs infielder Javier Báez, whose family is from the Bayamón area. Cubs Charities understood the need and offered to help restore baseball fields and give children across Puerto Rico the opportunity to play ball. This reconstruction will be of great importance to the community and I am proud to continue my efforts to restore the island. ”
LISC has been working with a variety of organizations to identify priority fields and outline redevelopment plans with community members, including local groups such as Little League Puerto Rico and PathStone, Enterprise Center, sports nonprofits such as Pitch in for Baseball and disaster relief organizations like All Hands and Hearts.
"After the storms, we were the forgotten rural towns," said Rafael Surillo Ruiz, mayor of Yabucoa, as his eyes filled with tears when he spoke about the future of the local fields. "Having an iconic park built by the community, for the community, and supported by all these collaborators, means a lot to the spirit of our city."
LISC expects most of the field renovations to be completed in time for the 2020 baseball season.