Oriole Advocates back from Nicaragua after another successful Cardboard to Leather distrbution

What do you do with a pair of shoes when you're done with them? Maybe you literally walk a hole in them, and they're bound for the waste basket. Perhaps they're re-soled and recycled, or even turned into family hand-me-downs. Maybe there's still some tread left, and you donate them to your favorite charity so someone without proper footwear can benefit from them.

But I'll bet you've never considered turning those worn-out shoes into a makeshift baseball glove.

Shoe gloves.jpgIn many poorer countries, a tree limb or scrap of wood suffices for a bat, while balls are made of tightly wound tape, or whatever is available. A baseball glove is fashioned from whatever is available, from a piece of cardboard wrapped in duct tape to the aforementioned old shoes - that's what Bob Harden, one of the Oriole Advocates involved in the group's Cardboard to Leather campaign, found out last month when he and other members of the organization visited Nicaragua to distribute baseball equipment to impoverished areas where it's most needed.

Harden and wife Shirley, who were making their fourth trip to Nicaragua, were joined by Advocates president Rick Young and Cardboard to Leather chairman Mike Licea. They were hosted by Alex Torres and his wife Johanna, both of whom work tirelessly to improve the lives of the kids in their native country. A shipping container full of balls, bats, gloves, uniforms, bases and other equipment was shipped there two months ago, awaiting the arrival of the Advocates, who joyfully distributed the items to youngsters who were just as thrilled to receive them.

Bob Harden estimates that he and the group met some 2,100 children representing 130 teams during their week in Nicaragua. Another 500 kids, he said, have received donated equipment since the group returned to Baltimore. They traveled in pickup trucks on poorly maintained roads shared with wandering cattle to reach groups of baseball-crazy children. The trips, some of which lasted two and a half hours one way, left a lasting impression.

C2L group shot.jpg"As in all societies, if children do not have interests, then they usually have troubles," Harden said. "Probably the biggest problem for the youth are drugs, and most youth leaders are convinced that those children who have the opportunity to play baseball do not have such problems. One small village that we visited had five police officers, all of whom attended our presentation. We asked the police chief the percentage of crime in his town and he stated, 'Absolutely zero.' He stated that their job was to work with the families and the children to ensure a safe and hopefully better life."

In almost every place the group visited, the large ceremonies were attended by virtually the whole town. In one case, they were welcomed by streets lined on both sides with cheering townspeople, who applauded the visitors and followed them to the town's baseball diamond. Some of the fields were bereft of the simplest of equipment - discarded crushed water bottles served as bases in one - and the Advocates left each field with three bases, a pitcher's mound and a home plate.

"Three of the fields had chicken wire backstops, which were pretty ineffective," Harden recalled. "Our host, Alex Torres, has helped other towns acquire backstops, primarily through MLB's Baseball Tomorrow program. Alex said that a good backstop along with fenced dugouts only costs $2,400, which for these programs is a lot. I am hoping that we may find some organizations that may want to help obtain the materials, and the construction would be supervised by Alex."

AdvocatesWithKids.jpgIn the more than two decades the Advocates have been collecting equipment through the Cardboard to Leather campaign, they've helped youngsters in places like Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Belize. They even sent a shipment to an Indian reservation in South Dakota.

Each year, a Cardboard to Leather collection is held by the Advocates at Camden Yards before an Orioles game. Fans are encouraged to drop off new or gently used equipment, or to make monetary donations to benefit the program, which has been running since the early 1990s. This year's Cardboard to Leather collection at Camden Yards is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 13, so now's the time to start nudging around your house for balls, bats, gloves and other equipment that you no longer need.

blog comments powered by Disqus