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This year's Little League baseball and softball season is under way — and in the Northeast, some teams and players have taken the field again, despite losing vital equipment to Hurricane Sandy. Many donations were handled by Pitch In For Baseball, which gathered used and new gloves and helmets for the players.
In February, the organization announced it would provide equipment worth $150,000 to baseball and softball players in the New York region. And as its founder, David Rhode, tells NPR's Michel Martin on Tell Me More Wednesday, he saw a need for Pitch In For Baseball to help give kids a sense of normalcy after the disruptions brought by Sandy.
While many relief and charity aid focuses on humanitarian needs, Rhode says that "it's very difficult and sometimes non-existent for these sort of quality-of-life, extracurricular activities, because communities and families sometimes have to prioritize — and kids are asked to sacrifice in a lot of situations."
Founded in 2005, Pitch In For Baseball was originally meant to help children around the world play baseball. But the devastation brought to the U.S. Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina made it clear the group could also help American kids, Rhode says. They saw a similar need in the aftermath of Sandy, as leagues asked for help.
"After a storm or after some other event, your life is turned upside down," Rhode tells Michel. "And sometimes for kids that we've met, the most important thing on their mind is really, what about my game on Tuesday, or what about my glove? And so we think it's great to give kids that simple activity, the simple sense of joy of going out and playing."
Stella Smith, 12, is one of the players who got a boost.
"I've been playing softball since I was seven," she tells Michel, "but I also played tee-ball when I was I like four or five years old." Stella now plays on the Island Park Little League Softball team in Island Park, N.Y.
"Could you tell us why it's so important to be able to play and have adults like David try to help make sure that kids can play?" Michel asks.
"It's really important in my point of view," Stella answers, "because we need our friends. And as much as we need food and gas and all the things that adults have to worry about, kids worry about it, too. And like, I know it doesn't seem like that, but we do. And the most important thing to us is that if our families are OK — and just being back on the field makes us feel like we don't need to worry about that anymore."
After the storm hit, Stella's family spent a couple weeks with an aunt. A stay in another family's basement followed. The Smiths recently moved back home, she says.
Asked by Michel if playing softball is a break from the struggles of the past several months, Stella says, "It is."
"It feels like nothing can go wrong," she says. "My feelings can't get hurt, because everyone's included. And it's just, everyone is so great. And I just love my whole team."
Stella says her team played its first game a couple weeks ago, against Long Beach. The Island Park kids trailed 7-1 early, and lost the game after their comeback bid was turned away, 7-6. To Stella, it was a good first outing.
"It felt amazing," she says, "because I actually felt like I could be part of a team, and call myself part of a team."
Like a true team player, Stella also reeled off her squad's sponsors: "Nassau Financial Federal Credit Union and Jewelry by Steven.com."