Occasionally, the brilliance of an idea is captured in its name. So it is with “Gloves 4 Troops,” the brainchild of Memphis Redbirds infielder Vance Albitz.
Back in November, Albitz read about a deployed solider who said the one thing he really wished he had from back home was a baseball and a glove. Normalcy – always the goal for soldiers in harm’s way – was a game of catch. Albitz understood because as far back as he can remember, holidays at home in Torrance, Calif., meant him, his older brother and father playing catch and having a little informal BP.
“My mom’s even out there running around,” Albitz said.
At first Albitz, 25, just wanted to send a couple of used gloves – let a few soldiers know that somebody cared. But the idea took off and, yes, Facebook and Twitter were “huge,” Albitz said, in spreading the message. Suddenly, people were sending Albitz new gloves and money for shipping, saying if there was money left over use it to buy more gloves. Rawlings Sports Goods gave him a good deal, Albitz said, and the Redbirds’ parent St. Louis Cardinals collected donations at their Winter Warm-up and helped put the word out.
Before long, Albitz’s “Gloves 4 Troops” had become a full-fledged movement.
Albitz had to halt the project, albeit temporarily, when he reported to spring training. But by that time he had collected and sent almost 2,000 gloves to military bases – many of them in Afghanistan. His website, www.gloves4troops.com, is full of pictures. One shows men and women wearing both baseball gloves on their hands and guns on their hips. Another shows a solider holding his glove up and standing on a field of … white, surrounded by snow. There are pictures of the collection process, of Albitz’s father, Phil, repairing the strings on a glove; of the stacks of gloves about to be boxed and shipped (Albitz ran out of storage room at his parents’ house); and of a postcard from a sergeant, replete with a smiley face:
“Hey Vance, thanks for the baseball gear. My guys snatched them up quick. You’re the best, SSG Price, US Army.”
Said Albitz: “The single best part of this has been how grateful the soldiers have been. In terms of myself, my whole family and friends back home, my girlfriend, we all worked on it and hung out.”
If you want to contribute, Albitz says by all means collect all the gloves you can – “baby-sit them” – and check the website in October for further instructions. Meantime, Albitz has a job to do.
After playing four years at UC-San Diego and going undrafted, Albitz played two seasons of Independent League baseball. He was a Lincoln Saltdog. In Nebraska. It was only slightly less remote than playing left field in the mountains of Afghanistan.
And then a low-level Cardinals’ farm team, the Batavia Muckdogs, had a rash of injuries to infielders at the end of the 2011 season. They signed him.
“I was playing well at the right time,” he said. “I don’t want to say I got lucky, but I sort of did.”
Now you might say he has passed it on. Vance Albitz: baseball’s soldier of fortune.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.