Cards farmhand gives back to soldiers worldwide
Through charity initiative, Minor Leaguer sends baseball equipment to troops
For Cardinals Minor League infielder Vance Albitz, the offseason is all about staying busy any way he can until Spring Training rolls around.
Albitz expected that time to consist of long days at the gym, on the diamond or at the batting cages, but all that changed when he happened across an article on the Internet a little over a month ago, in which a soldier was asked what he wanted people to send him.
"He said baseball gloves and a baseball so another solider and he could play catch," Albitz said. "When I read that, I thought it was perfect. I play baseball and I support the U.S. troops. I immediately thought about how I had gloves sitting around my house that aren't being used."
And with that, Gloves 4 Troops was born.
"A light bulb went off. It's two things I am passionate about -- people defending our country and baseball," Albitz said.
"I knew a bunch of teammates who are in the same position as me. What they need is one person to put this together and gather all the stuff. Because it's the offseason, I'm in the position to do it, and that's really how it started."
Albitz set out to make the donation process as simple as possible. Through his website, gloves4troops.com, the Cardinals prospect is looking to gather gloves or financial donations. The money is put towards shipping a box of four gloves and four balls to troops around the world, which costs approximately $20.
Setting a goal of sending 1,000 gloves to troops across the globe before the start of Spring Training 2013, Albitz has already shipped off a total of 100 new and used gloves to 16 different locations in just over four weeks. The majority of the boxes have been sent to Army and Marine troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Albitz uses the website anysolider.com to connect with troops that have between 30 to 40 people in their platoon and want sports equipment.
"You can really take playing catch for granted," Albitz said. "Playing catch is at the heart of why we as a nation love playing baseball. Doing it with a loved one or a friend, that is where the passion for baseball really is despite things around the game changing.
"You can do it anywhere from the deserts of the Middle East to the beaches of California."
He's urging people to give gloves they no longer use or part ways with an old one. However, many people have also donated brand new gloves.
While many of the donations have come from Albitz's hometown of Torrance, Calif., the Minor Leaguer said he's also received gloves from as far away as Virginia and New Jersey. Social media has been a useful tool in helping Albitz spread the word across the country and keep teammates, coaches and friends updated on his progress and what they can do to help.
Albitz even received a donation from his hitting coach at Double-A Springfield, Phillip Wellman.
Upon hearing about Gloves 4 Troops from his wife, Wellman knew he immediately wanted to make a contribution.
"It really is an admirable cause," Wellman said. "It says a lot about the game and the people who play it. I feel lucky to get paid for what I love to do and will take any opportunity to help the troops.
"It isn't about the glove or ball, it's about supporting the troops, doing the right thing and giving them a taste of home during trying times."
Albitz has also received positive feedback from the sporting-goods community, especially Worth Sports and Southern California sales representative Robyn Ferris.
After getting an e-mail from Albitz about donating gloves, Ferris was touched and wanted to help out.
Ferris, who intends to donate in the coming weeks, has already told many other colleagues about Gloves 4 Troops and sent friends Facebook messages about the nonprofit.
"Everyone I've talked to is excited to help out," Ferris said. "It is a nice diversion for the soldiers and really brings a part of home to them. It puts a smile on their faces and I'm happy to help in any way I can.
"Having a father who served in the Army, I thought about him and how much he would have liked and appreciated something like this."
And while it has only been a short time since Albitz started the project, he's already begun hearing from soldiers.
One of them, Spc. Matthew Campbell, was particularly excited because the Cardinals are his favorite baseball team.
"First off, I would like to thank you for the support and appreciation you show the military, and I would like to thank you for considering me and my brothers in arms," Campbell said in an e-mail to Albitz. "One of my good friends in my platoon flipped out when I told him that a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization wanted to support us, because the Cardinals are our favorite team."
Albitz said it's those types of notes that make everything he is doing worth it.
"Being a part of the Cardinals organization, I've seen first hand everything they do. They are good players on the field, but also off it and I wanted to be apart of that, Albitz said.
"I wanted to do something tangible. These people are putting their lives on the line defending our freedom so I can go out and be free to do what I want and play baseball for a living."
More than anything, Albitz continues to be struck by the idea of American troops playing America's pastime more than 7,000 miles away.
"There is something so special about that and a responsibility behind it for people who play baseball and have the freedom to follow the American dream," Albitz said. "You want to show support."
Quinn Roberts is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.