No Bats group comes through in a pinch for charity

Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is just latest to benefit from club's philanthropy


October 20, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The No Bats Baseball Club knew it could raise money to bring a little sunshine to boys with a dream.

Evidently, it also has the power to ease drought.

The rains that began to soak the region Oct. 10 coincided with the arrival in Aberdeen of No Bats, a movement that spread from a slo-pitch softball team in Anne Arundel County to include 85 members from 30 states. More than 60 came here to show the fruit of their distinctive philanthropy and make a substantial donation to the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which teaches needy youngsters "character and leadership through baseball."

More than 20,000 assembled at Ravens Stadium two weeks ago for the local Race for the Cure, the footrace circuit that raises funds for breast cancer research. For Leslie Nielsen, happiness is appearing every day in a charity golf tournament, but how many play baseball for a cause? No Bats finally got to do that at Ripken Stadium on Oct. 12, when the tarp was removed and men from 22 to 74 showed off skills as varied as their age.

"This is standard for us," Ted Simendinger said. "We had a hurricane in Dodgertown, a flood in Cooperstown."

Simendinger, a retired sales executive who collects friends as easily as others do baseball caps, is the founder of No Bats. In 1991, he went upscale for a reunion of a softball team that was rooted at Severna Park High School in the early 1970s and played under a slightly risque name. Forty-eight guys rented Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., conducted a draft, split into four teams and played by as many rules: No wives, no kids, no drugs and no arguing.

A consensus grew that No Bats needed to make an impact beyond blowing off steam. From 1997 to 2001, No Bats sent its annual gathering to different points of the United States and made donations totaling more than $250,000 to baseball foundations that bear the names of Nolan Ryan, Dave Dravecky and the late Catfish Hunter.

Members know that should they need help themselves - in No Bats lingo, be in the barrel - they too will be pulled out, as Harley Kane, a 35-year-old attorney from Florida, learned when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease last year.

"My wife was five months pregnant with twins when we got the news," Kane said. "There was one point when I wanted to quit, but every day when I went to the mailbox, somebody in the club picked me up with a gift or a card that told me I'm a jerk. We approach everything with humor. Those guys picked me up, and that's why I'm still here."

Rich Bellis works in capital planning at the University of Notre Dame, and makes two visits a year to Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1997, he broke his neck sliding during the No Bats gathering in Birmingham, Ala., an injury that led to the discovery of a tumor in his second vertebra. Members covered all of the arrangements to have Bellis' wife be by his side.

"No one in the club is like you; there's a broad cross section," Bellis said. "There are retired executives from Xerox, guys who climb telephone poles and police officers from San Francisco."

Dave French, a charter member and a former schoolmate of Simendinger's, works at a Home Depot on Washington Boulevard. C. Tommy Harrel, a vegetable farmer in Hertford, N.C., joined after No Bats brightened his hometown three weeks after the 1999 death of Hunter, his neighbor. Hunter himself had ordered the beer for No Bats.

This year, No Bats went beyond sending 10 boys to Ripken's baseball camp in Moses Lake, Wash. Each member that visited Aberdeen was required to raise $500. To honor Ripken's consecutive games streak (2,632), No Bats started a campaign to solicit checks from smaller contributors - for $26.32.

"The No Bats group's love and passion for baseball are evident," Ripken said. "They have taken that passion for the game and turned it into a unique way to raise significant funds for worthwhile causes."

Their fund-raising is more inspirational than their baseball. When the boys of autumn finally got to play at Ripken Stadium, the style was one step above T-ball. Later that day, members met Ripken and handed over a check to his father's foundation for more than $107,000. Simendinger was asked if the No. 7 that Cal Ripken Sr. wore had any significance to the size of the donation.

"Sure," Simendinger said. "We didn't pursue going beyond $107,000 last week. When we total up everything, we'll give the foundation more than that."

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