All-American Disaster Relief

December 9, 2011 11:25 PM
All-American Disaster Relief

Baseball has a rich history of providing hope for Americans—from games during the Dust Bowl to all-women teams in wartime. This year, America’s pastime is raising money for Vermont farmers devastated by the remnant rains of Hurricane Irene.

"Going to Bat for Vermont Farmers," an initiative started by brothers Sam Lincoln, a Vermont farmer, and Buster Olney, an ESPN baseball reporter, is uniting baseball teams from across the U.S. to help those in need.

It began with a couple of phone calls. One afternoon, Olney was driving home from Fenway Park and talking to his brother about fund-raising ideas to help their neighbors recoup from the storm’s destruction. Later in his drive, a conversation with Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, led to the start of Going to Bat for Vermont Farmers.

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Yankees general manager Brian Cashman brought the 2000 Championship Trophy to "Red Sox Country" for the event. Donna O’Neill and other Yankees fans posed for pictures.

Supporters at the plate. Olney and Lincoln began planning. When word got out that Cashman was involved, support came pouring in from the baseball community nearly as fast as Irene’s rushing waters. Theo Epstein, president of the Chicago Cubs, and Neal Huntington, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire, offered their support.

Lincoln, who farms near Randolph Center, Vt., rallied New England’s agriculture community to donate food for the event and online auction items.

On Nov. 12, baseball players, coaches and fans, farmers and community leaders gathered in the small town of Randolph Center for an evening of food, fun and sports to benefit their neighbors and friends.

From coast to coast, people supported Vermont farmers through an online auction that included a year’s supply of milk, autographed bats and jerseys, monster seats at Fenway Park with ESPN’s "Baseball Tonight" analyst Peter Gammons and the general manager’s suite at Yankees Stadium for a night. A golf game with Michael Phelps and tickets to a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue party were also on the auction block.

The fundraiser earned nearly $200,000 to benefit the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund (VFDRF). Since the fund was established in late August, contributions have totaled $1,705,637. VFDRF grants provide up to $10,000 per farm to help farmers meet living needs and replace items lost in the storm that were not covered by insurance.

Olney and Lincoln are proud they can give back to their community and help those in need. They believe Vermont agriculture will survive. "There are a lot of resilient Vermonters who will be back on their feet in no time," Lincoln says.

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