Results tagged ‘ Jesse Litsch ’
I learned earlier today that former Rays batboy and Toronto Blue Jay hurler Litsch had officially announced his retirement during an interview with Jeff Sammut on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
I’m a bit sad right now.
It truly sucks to learn that one of my baseball friends has decided to hang up his spikes for good because I know the game will miss his energy, determination, comedic antics and well as his steadfast perseverance.
But I’m also extremely glad because those same traits makeup a firm foundation for a great teacher of the game’s nuances and skills. So it’s going to sting a bit knowing Litsch has thrown his final pitch as an MLB player, but I’m excited as he embarks on another journey possibly having the thrill of coaching another player towards their goal of pulling on a MLB jersey.
I respect and admire Jesse for his want to give back to the game that has given him so much. Not just in money, but in lasting friendships, great connections and a boatload of memories that will spill out forever when conversing with his baseball and non-baseball friends and future students.
He might never have known this, but I used to be one of the first people into the Trop back when Jesse was a batboy for the Tampa Bay Rays. Sometimes I would just sit there in my usual seat at the bottom of Section 138 and watched silently as Jesse took side tosses and suggestions from former Rays Pitching Coach Bill Fischer.
You could see in Jesse’s concentration he had that special form of girt and want to become a success. I have to tell you, even back then while still a young hurler at Dixie Hollins, he had a nice drop on his curve ball and seemed to be toying with a cutter.
So it was no surprise to me Jesse would be drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2004 MLB Draft. Then a little over 3 years later, on July 31, 2007, Jesse got to walk out to the Tropicana Field pitchers mound in his home town as his name bounced and echoed throughout the stadium.
I was there in the right field stands that night and remember well Litsch strolling to the mound in the bottom of the 1st inning and was on my feet to the dismay of some cheering for him as he made his exit after 6.2 innings of work.
I’m also glad to have gotten to know Litsch off the field as I attended his last 4 Jesse Litsch and Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournaments and got to witness another side of him that will only help him in his future endeavors.
Godspeed my friend.
When I first arrived for the 2014 edition of the Jesse Litsch and Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament it was a Winnie-the-Pooh kind of blustery day. But a great thing happened just as the teams assembled for lunch before 18 holes of great golf. The skies parted and that warming Sun took charge of the event. But I also want to believe someone up there wanted Connor to have a perfect day.
I got to meet Connor a few years ago while he was struggling with that nasty “C” word. The kid was spunky, friendly and determined to fight this cancer back into submission. I heard from a smiling bird a week prior to the event some fantastic news about Connor, and I was beaming the rest of the day.
So it really was perfect the Sun was blazing and the celebrities all assembled in a half-moon around a make-shift Home Plate as Litsch lobbed a mid-zone pitch in and Connor rocked it high into the left-side section of the field up onto the Putting Green. You see today was a day Connor could celebrate, and all the assembled celebrities wanted to also give him a special and emotional celebration. You see Connor has fought the demon and won. He is now Cancer-free.
As he rounded the bases to cheers from everyone around the circle the celebrities gave him a Home Plate “team meeting” as they all rubbed his head, shook hands and clapped to celebrate this awesome achievement by one truly courageous young guy. I will admit, there was some liquid on my cheek, but I told people it was dew from the palm tree. I was even more honored to photograph the moment and hope everyone remembers Connor fight and to remember Jimmy V’s words, “Never Give Up”.
Connors own charity “Friends of Connor” which supports other children taking on cancer is only 1 of the trifecta of great charities that the golf tournament embraces closely. The North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camps and Bechtel’s Bikes for Kids, which provide bikes and protective gear for children in need around this region and are delivered each holiday season by Pinellas County Sheriff’s department.
After the emotional beginning of the day events the assembled duffers made their way around the beautiful and wildlife-filled EastLake Woodlands North course to take on events like the Long Drive, Closest to the Pin and the always welcome Red Bull 9th hole. This year some amazing food also graced the greens as Skyline Chili (Chili Dogs), Johnny Grits( amazing Shrimp & Grits) and Jersey Mikes (Cheesesteaks) helped keep the golfer full, happy and never hungry.
But of course everyone was either dreading or loving the all-time favorite holes, the tee-ball blast or the Kick, Punt and Pass competition. Every year there are highs and lows at the T-ball hole as some people give it their all and the tee takes the blunt, or some bunt while others like Toronto Blue Jays RP Sergio Santos gets some pre-Spring hacks in advance of Inter-League fun.
I swear the tournament should post up a photographer at this hole with photos of all the participants and hold the pictures as a charity ransom so they do not get popped over the social media channels. Okay, maybe that is just my sinister idea. But seriously, the Kick ,Punt &Pass hole is by far the measure of who still has it and who…doesn’t.
I know a few people dread this hole, but the two pairing I witnessed participate this year did a great job with only 1 shanked punt. You see they first have to kick off a tee, then someone has to punt the ball, finally someone has to bring out their inner-Flute and throw as far as possible and the pairing then set their balls down and go from that mark. Always one of my favorite stopping points as I walk the 18 holes and try and catch people off-guard (in a good way).
Absent from the tournament field today were the Rays contingency who had their Pitchers and Catchers report on the tournament’s date, but the event did have a Rays flair as former players Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler, Fred McGriff and Coach Ozzie Timmons made their ways around the course. There were also over 2 dozen members of the Toronto Blue Jays farm system from top prospect Aaron Sanchez to MLB showing support for the event.
Again the evening was not only highlighted by the always amazing Silent Auction, but by the antic and jovial personality of local television icon Charlie Belcher. He was out there along with his wife visiting the various greens chatting with the golfers and providing liquid refreshments. I can honestly say he is one of the best MC’s in this area and is always fun to watch as he presents awards during the evening’s final moments.
From start to finish I always enjoy the event as each gear from George’s precision from start to finish, to Jesse & Kevin Bechtel’s involvement on the course and beyond to the conversation and sights I get to witness each year. It was another Home Run of an event and it all started with a walk-off Grand Slam by a kid wearing that great Toronto Blue Jays cap. Connor may have stolen the show this year, but Litsch and Bechtel and eager to go to bat for each charity for the next 364 days.
Here is a link for additional photos I took at this year’s Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
I once heard famous comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope speak this line at a USO Show so many moons ago, “If you haven’t got charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
Charity and giving back to my present community no matter if I’m in the Tampa Bay, Seattle or wandering somewhere else has always been a firm cornerstone of my personality. I am that random guy who rolls down his window and gives my last few dollars to someone in need. I know for myself, it was just the way I was brought up to give of myself in sweat, money or even time for others. Some might say it might have been those many hours of Sunday School or Church services with endless verses and stories that finally clicked the humanity button within your subconscious.
I personally want to think it was working with my Father at a young age putting on J-hooks and pulling cars out of the sand during storms, changing tires in rain storms or connecting cable to jump-start someone stranded. My Dad was one of the earliest AAA contractors and served the Beaches and West St. Petersburg since the mid-40’s until the mid-70’s. His work ethic along with his relentless humanitarian ways like giving lodging to vacationing people in our home while he repaired their cars, or inviting them to dinner went beyond the AAA service codes, and I valued those times and firmly entrenched that ethical treatment into my being.
The reality is that all my life I have been extremely lucky and not had to worry for much. I have never been without a place to lay my head,had food to eat or been too hot or cold in the elements. Even when I was on the edge of such actions in my life, I would still give of myself whenever possible. Some call it “paying it forward”, other just know it as treating my fellow man as I want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
Charity to me is not a “hand out” or even a “hand up”, it is the sign that we respect humanity and want to show our compassion or unity for a cause or ideal. In a span of 8 days in February I will again do my yearly pilgrimage to volunteer for two different Major League Baseball player’s (Toby Hall & Jesse Litsch) charity golf tournaments, plus another local human interest fundraiser. If you want information on either golf tourney, click on their names in the parenthesis to go to their website for more information or to contribute to their worthy causes.
Maybe a bit of my parents did rub off on me to want to give of myself like this. Possibly it is that stark reality that I have been to the top of the mountain in my field and also been tossed into the pits of despair that the sheer act of charity resonates with me so loud and clear. Sure I enjoy the warm feeling volunteering gives me, but seeing a smile on a child’s face or giving someone a glimmer of shining hope where there is darkness makes me want to do more each year.
Once I was in the same position as so many MLB players that I was able to give generously and without regard both during my college and professional career. Now physically providing my services are all that I have to volunteer. Heck, I know a few people with the Tampa Bay Rays who I have pestered and annoyed over the years letting them know I am available 24/7/365 to help in any venture, event or even just lend a hand when it is needed.
Some of those responses have been “Thank you, but we have it handled“, while others have opened their arms and let me do what I do best…work up a sweat and give until I am tired. But like I said in a Tweet once after working an event, “I am tired, but it is a good tired”.
The reason for this post today is that the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl, is always a visually reminder that Spring and baseball are just beyond the horizon. Rays Pitchers and Catchers will take the field in less than 17 days and our thoughts will pull towards the game and not those less fortunate. That is why I hope and wish that all of us can take a moment out in the next 10 days to provide an inspiration, a great smile or even some hard work towards helping someone else.
As I have grown older the art of charity and giving has become more focused in my life. Called it the wisdom and sage advice of an advancing human, or simple just the ramblings of a closet hopeless romantic, but I do not have to “go Green” to give back to this Earth. I just have to cherish those who also walk along with us on this journey. So let me get back off this soapbox, park myself back in front of this laptop and begin to think of ways to make all of you want to travel the path I will over the next 17 days.
Bob Hope was wise man. There has to be a balance within ourselves of charity and humility for us to grow, mature and even have the respect and admiration of the masses. MLB players can give a percentage of their yearly salaries, but those who are not working, or even homeless can only give of themselves. Since I began with a quote, maybe I should end with another quote that resonates through me daily:
“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. ” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
I have mad respect and admiration for Jesse Litsch and Kevin Bechtel. It takes a special breed of person to give back year after year and make an event like their annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament grow larger and more respected every single year. And Litsch was a pure trooper this year just 4 weeks removed from surgery on his pitching shoulder and was there with energy to spare all day long bringing another huge positive vibe to the event.
We all know this day of charity and great experiences is not just about the fun events like the Punt, Kick and Pass hole, or even hitting the ball off a tee for yardage, it is the bonding atmosphere and budding friendship vibe that encompasses this tournament from beginning to it’s final yearly conclusion that keeps people coming back, and telling their friends to also come experience the awesome event.
I do not know who or what sat Bechtel and Litsch together at that 2008 golf tourney awards dinner, but whatever it was, I can assure it has to have a grin from ear-to-ear because of their successes and forward motion to helping kids in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond. I have been a part of this grand day for the past 3 years and have personally seen it grow into the “Must Do” event that precedes the reporting dates for most of the MLB teams that migrate to this region in mid-February.
It is this duo’s shared passion and want to give back to their respective communities with a vengeance that has me eager and excited to come North to East Lake Woodlands Golf Course and spend a day with Jesse, Kevin and over a hundred of their golf celebrities and friends who also have charitable hearts. As the tournament has aged, so has their outreach to other needy organizations within this area.
Litsch first got to see a portion of Bechtel’s dream when he attended the 2008 “Bechtel’s Bike for Kids” program during the holidays when bikes and helmets were donated by Bechtel and then were loaded up by Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies and distributed around the area. On that faithful night, the seed was planted that spawned this very event and the continuous expansion of focus towards helping more charitable kids programs.
After the success of 2012, the pair began helping the North Pinellas YMCA Summer Camp and have expanded their “Friends of Conner” involvement which benefits and helps children who are fighting cancer.
onner was there again this year and stayed only for part of the day since he had baseball practice at 3pm, but that reason in itself shows Conner is beating the big “C” and is living his life to the fullest. It was special seeing Conner this year get a photo with all around good guy Johnny Damon before the event started, and the pair talked for a bit and I think Conner inspired Johnny a bit that day (He later drained a 30-ft put on Hole 10).
At this year’s event we all got to meet another new “friend”, Dimitri or better known to all of us now as “D-Money”. Here is another crusader who is taking the fight to cancer, winning and showing all of us some amazing golf skills not only for someone of his age, but to the thrill of all of us young and old.
I watched in awe at Hole 9 as “D-Money” hit that ball almost on a string straight to the pin, only missing it by inches or getting a odd roll. More than once during the day Dimitri put his golf ball as close as anyone could, even a professional. If he keeps that up, “D-Money” will definitely get a shot to shoot the ball off a tee at Pebble Beach.
And it is great to see so many of these stellar athletes both young and retired mesh together with their parings and form memories and stories that will be told for years and years thanks to Litsch and Bechtel’s vision. I again walked the entire course and got nothing by waves and smiles from the pairings as they teed off, set up their putts or took a few moment to relax at the Red Bull “Oasis” at Hole 10.
Mixing the grand game of golf with a small slice of athletic challenges bring a unique energy to this event. Sure there is still the usual “Closest to the Pin”, and “Longest Drive” competitions, but the skills sometimes brings the celebrities and amateurs together bonding in both laughter and amazement.
But for me the best time of the event is the roll towards the end of the day. As dinner approaches the volume and capacity of the dining area grows with tales of the day. People gather who might not usual know each other as converse about the event, the silent auction items and even about a few celebrities at the next table or next to them in line at the buffet table. As the evening comes to a close awards are given out, people take a last chance at their auction wants, and new friendships and memories are sealed into us forever thanks to this event.
I can not thank George, Jesse, Kevin and Debbie enough for their hospitality over the last few years as I also got indoctrinated to this event and finding myself each January now saving the date for another round of fun and charity to support this organizations charities and objectives.
If you want a day of fun you will remember for a long, long time. Want to help children in the Northern reaches of Pinellas county and beyond, then you have to be a part of the 5th Annual Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. But be warned, this event is addictive because once you have gotten a glimpse and taste of all the great times and experiences, you will be back again the next year knowing the golf again will be fantastic, the food delicious and the company on and off the course above par.
Hope to see you at the 2014 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Here is a Flickr Link to a photo set of all the pictures taken during the 2012 Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament. All photos are public and can be saved to your computer if you want to print them. I never make my photos private so the great events moments can be shared by anyone and everyone.
I do not remember the first time I went out to the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg, Florida and watched my first Miracle League ballgame. Here were kids, some with huge physical disadvantages with smiles going from ear-to-ear laughing, along with their adult co-pilots whistling around a soft surfaced baseball diamond with the ease and grace of deer or birds. I tugs deep inside you to see the joy, adulation and huge amounts of spirit on display not only by the cheering parents and friends, but by other kids awaiting their own turn at the plate.
The Miracle League was the first charity ex-Tampa Bay Rays catcher Toby Hall took under his wing when he began his foundation. As the league as grown, so has Hall’s involvement with another great institution, Buddy Baseball who now joins side-by-side with The Miracle League as Hall’s main baseball charitable interests. Both of these leagues embrace the positive things about the game of baseball as well as promote equality as players no matter your limitations and bring about a honest and positive experience for all involved.
And this is something Hall has not only embraced during his playing days, but also kept the spirit alive and thriving since his retirement from baseball last season. His foundation and his annual Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament have grown just as much as his charities, and the involvement of present and past athletes from the Tampa Bay are and beyond have stepped to the plate and knocked balls clear past the fences with their charitable donations and efforts.
From his golf day events and raffles, to that evening much anticipated silent auction, I have been glad to watch as this event has grown into an event that people mark on their calendars as far back as October to be a part of this event.
This season I got a grand honor of being the celebrity greeter at the event and got to meet plenty of people I have never met personally as well as greet old baseball friends and past participants who remember my face. And this event is not only for baseball players. The assorted collection of athletes and celebrities from this region that show support for this event runs a gambit from artists like TW Curtis, Hooters/ Sports radio icon Lynne Austin, Rays “strapping young Rays lad Todd Kalas, and even Fisher from 97X radio grace the celebrity pairings as well as guys who made their name on the fields, ice and gridirons.
From the frozen ice we saw former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, Pat Jablonski putting a few dimpled balls into the cup. Boxing champion Winky Wright took a few doglegs left and right this year as well as Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons and his memorable pants. Even LPGA golfer Brittany Lincicome and Lantana Stone made celebrity appearances this year. Buried in the list of celebrities was also a race car driver, Martin Plowman. In all, athletes from ex-Bucs great Mike Alstott to Wright made their yearly pilgrimage to Hall’s event, and as always, fun was in the air and the kid’s were on our minds.
The day was prefect for golf. Not to hot, not to cold (until the later hours) and just enough wind to drive the golfers crazy with slices and hooks, but also keep the sweat off your neck and arms to prevent a little too much Sun. Even special treats like amazing Bloody Marys via an icy adventure, to succulent and tangy shrimp cakes with an amazing sauce kept spirits high and fun at an explosive level. It was great seeing old Rays baseball friends like Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Romano, Randy Winn and the “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff take time out of their schedules for such a great cause.
Other current MLB players like Adam Lind, Jesse Litsch and AJ Pierzenski (who brought his own foursome) along with the Rays rotation duo of Alex Cobb and Matt Moore showed their support for Hall’s charities as well as play a pretty competitive and good spirited round of golf. And the Tampa Bay Bucs were not absent from the festivities as former players like Alstott, Dave Moore, Anthony Becht and Reidel Anthony played along side current Bucs WR Vincent Jackson during the scramble tournament.
As always, the day began with everyone relaxing, eating some lunch and getting themselves ready for a great day for golf and supporting Hall’s many charitable organizations. From mulligans purchases to the final bids of the evening at the banquet with our new comedic friend “hook ‘em horns” guy, the event came to a final end with some of the kids and parents of both charities in attendance at the nightly banquet/silent auction.
I even got into the spirit this season bidding on a great autographed item and being able to take it home and proudly put it on my wall as a reminder of this great event and the guy who brings joy to so many kids within The Miracle League and Buddy Baseball.
So, I need the date for next year because I definitely want to highlight it and save it because who would not want to be a part of this foundation’s great events and shake hands with the humble host who always seems to get that clutch donation. I have always had mad respect for Hall, but this season I think I can ratchet it up a few more hundred notches.
Always a pleasure helping Toby out with this event, and I’m not only looking forward to the 2014 Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament, but 3-4 years into the future as it is so much fun to volunteer and be a part of such a great event hosted by such a humble and great supporter of the game of baseball. Call me anytime Toby, I’ll help in anyway possible.
Here is a Flickr link to all 81 photos taken during the 2013 Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament.
I truly believe it is an event like no other in Tampa Bay. From the evident bonds between teammates and the golf participants this golf tournament is more than just 8 hours of fun, sun and conversation, it is truly life changing. When I first volunteered for the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament last season, I spent a majority of my time cooped up in the clubhouse not getting the full jest and personality of this awesome tournament, but in 2012, I decided to do things a bit differently.
Maybe it was the inspiration I got from seeing young Connor sprinting and being a kid around the golf course before the guys even hit the links that inspired me. Here was a kid who was battling that demon, the big “C” who was cheerful, spunky and all around a young guy you wanted see beat not only this aliment, but anything in his wake. It got me pumped up, and with that I walked all 18 holes of the East Lake North Golf course on this day.
Connor was one of the tournament’s charitable recipients this season, and I could not think of a better way to not only honor his courage and smile while facing such an ordeal than to give a pound of sweat and maybe a few aches and pains getting photos I left behind in 2011. This is an organization that brings together not only the young and veteran members of the Toronto Blue Jays organization, but other professional players from the Tampa Bay region, even a few Tampa Bay Rays. I talked to Rays SS Reid Brignac earlier in the week and he was upset he would miss this tournament because of a prior commitment.
But those assembled for this great event that not only will help Connor, but will also give funding to programs like The Boys & Girls Club and The Bike for Kids program which is a charity in conjunction with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to give bikes to underprivileged children during the holiday season. And all this started when Litsch and Bechtel first talked during a similar golfing event back in November 2008.
They say sometimes the best things happen on the golf links, and with regards to this tournament, that is exactly how it unfolded. In its third year, this event has not only grown in the silent auction arena providing countless great adventures and signed memorabilia, it brings together people from all walks of life and bonds them into a common goal and objective to have fun for the day while bringing in financial help for the tournament’s charities.
But this is not your father’s usual golf tournament. Sure you have the shotgun start, the usual wild pants, hats and decorative ensembles that go together with such events, but the pairings of celebrity and amateur golfers brings a conversation, and common interest and maybe even a possible kinship that could spawn another tournament just like this one.
Got to admit, I got that in spades, but it wasn’t enough to win the card game on that one particular tee. But this event which is focused firmly on its charitable funding also doesn’t take itself too serious not to have some fun during the day, even with events straight out of what must have been a Pledge Captains’ fraternity play book.
I mean you had kick, punt and pass holes for additional yardage that most though former Bucs kicker Martin Gramattica would own. That hole by itself was worth the mileage walking this golf course as both young and old tried to bring back a bit of past glory, but few seemed eager and willing to re-visit that piece of time. Still, it was a hole where also laughter ruled the day and even a few comments vented towards participants whose past football glory let them down on this day, shanked to the left or right of the fairway.
Remember I spoke of the Frat angle, that is the 10th hole. A huge Red Bull tent where Litsch camped out for the day along with a killer sound system, very spirited ladies providing beverages and even photos along with a long drive contest that proved to be not only water challenged, but hair-raising at the same time. Of course I also got a ball jettisoned my direction by recently retire Rays C Toby Hall, but the ball ended up high, wide and not very handsome, hopefully missing someone in their backyard. Still, this half-way point of the course had the vibe and energy of the entire event and it kept me not only going, but provided me with a chance to sit and chat with many of the day’s duffers, including former Rays P Doug Waechter.
But my favorite hole by far was the baseball tee. I know there were more former or current baseball participants in this assembled logjam of golfers than any other sport, but moist of us never had to hit a ball off a tee, and much less with 4 other people behind us critiquing use like the MLB Network. The one golfer that didn’t surprise me with his swing was former Rays SP/RP and new Cub Andy Sonnanstine. Maybe it was the fact I was just off to the right of the tee box about 150 yards, but Sonny actually stroked one within 10 feet of me just shy of giving me a bruise to remember.
Still you get the jest now that this tournament takes it focus seriously but while on the links talks, bonding and bringing together people who want to support these charities is priority one. Fun might rule the day, but serious matters including some high bidding on packages and auction items ruled the roost after everyone was done for the day on the greens. Again there was the autographed bats signed by each celebrity participant of the tournament that this seasoned peaked out at $ 250 each bringing more help and financial muscle to the charities.
All the whole there was an assembled hum and buzz in the room as everyone talked either about the upcoming baseball season, their daily good and forgettable moments, or just wanting to meet and bond with their table mates. Charlie Belcher from the local Fox affiliate again was the Master of Ceremonies and did a great job as usual bringing together the assembly at the right moments to honor the day’s best golfers and offer some great comedic moments. I was glad I detoured myself this season out onto the golf course. There was different vibe outdoors even with the cold bit in the air, the humor, and relaxed attitude of each of the pairings as we crossed paths was inviting and a great experience.
This is definitely one of those I want to volunteer my services to as long as possible, for their outreaching arms to the community is inspiring, and it is great to see a local MLB player and a heavy hitter in the financial field give back with an equal amount of rejuvenated vigor and vitality.
In the end I want to again thank Jesse, Kevin, George and the entire participating group from organizers, volunteers and participants for again bringing a warmth to my heart with their outward display of great giving back to this region. You can bet without a doubt I will be back in 2013, just save me an opening, because I am ready, willing and able to again participate in such a great charitable adventure.
Bloggers’s Note: I want to apologize to Jesse and Kevin for the delay of this post. When my laptop went down, I was afraid I had lost these photos, but I was able to pluck them from my dead hard drive and also post other photos to my free Flickr photostream. Again thank you for the memorable moment and I truly look forward to the 2013 edition of this great event.
Professional athletes have a special format and platform to help educate and introduce us to charities and organization that are among us that without their support or enlightenment might go unnoticed or suffer financial downfalls and possible extinction. This is one of the many reasons I have chosen to be a part of the annual Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. Well, that and helping out one of my true baseball friends.
His 2012 event again was overflowing with support from the baseball and sports community of Tampa Bay. From the Tampa Bay Lightning to former and current athletes coming together to help support Hall and The Miracle League, the event was a winner from the arrival of the first golfer. This year the event took on a different feel for me. Hall had announced his official retirement as a player earlier in the year, and now his focus and determination was focused and pin-pointed towards helping those organizations that touched at his heart strings.
I also took on a different face within the classic this year as I was on the opposite end of the camera lens taking photos of some of the golfing pairings, and getting some unseen shots while accompanying Hall and his entourage around the course during the days events. It was great to see former Tampa Bay sports icons like Tampa Bay Bucs RB Mike Alstott, T E Dave Moore, K Martin Gramatica. and the Bucs mega fan Big Nasty made the region’s football presence known at the event. Other NFL participants were Kansas City Chiefs TE Anthony Becht and former Jets, Bengals and Bucs OL Matt O’Dwyer.
As usual, the Major League Baseball community both in Tampa Bay and with a bevy of former Rays made the bulk of the events celebrity attendees, each bringing their own spin and special moments to the event. Current members of the Rays showing their support for the former Rays backstop included SP David Price who formed Team Price along with teammates SS Reid Brignac and CF B J Upton. Also attending the event was SP James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and RF Matt Joyce who all acted as celebrity golfers in the classic’s pairings.
But Rays players were not the only one having fun on the links this day, Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley, former Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez, Bench coach Bill Evers, former Rays Hitting Coach Steve Henderson and former Rays OF and current Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons made their rounds Thursday. Former Rays bat boy and current Toronto Blue Jays P Jesse Litsch was also on hand as well as FSN Sports and Rays Television broadcast man-on-the-move Todd Kalas who came out to support the event plus performed some spontaneous Awards Dinner MC work that inspired the evenings auctions.
Several other former Rays and long time supporters of the classic which included a pair of new Chicago Cubs, LHP Trever Miller and RP Andy Sonnanstine, plus new Indians RP Dan Wheeler who made their annual show of support for their former teammate. Former Rays backstop Gregg Zaun again brought his humor and great vibe to the event along with Washington Nationals OF Jason Michaels who again brought his unique putter and local radio “babe” and original Hooters icon Lynne Austin who I still owe a Bloody Mary. Local NBA icon and restaurant owner Matt Geiger also showed his tall and big presence on the links.
It was a great day on the greens and fairways and I had a great time talking and shooting the breeze with many of the celebrities and amateurs who took to the links. With great weather and great bonding on the golf course, the night’s final event brought the whole day to an eventual climax. Along with the raffles and awards presentation, Hall then introduced a group that had touched more than his heart strings to the assembled crowd.
Hall spoke of his recent introduction to another great baseball related group called Buddy Baseball that pairs a volunteer with a special needs player and they bond both on and off the field. His emotional moment touched so many in the crowd, and showed us another great organization to not only keep an eye on, but help develop into the successful model The Miracle League has become around the Tampa Bay area. Hall presented the group with a $ 4,000 check on this night, and with it came a rush of emotions all over the room and with the players and staff.
So many of the works and events that athletes do both in Tampa Bay or around the country do not get their “just desserts” within the local media. I volunteer for these events every Spring not to glamorize the athletes involved, but hope to inspire and promote others within the region to also join the path to helping these organizations have continued success and expansion into other Tampa Bay regions. Knowing that Hall has included the Baseball Buddies group now with The Miracle League charity it is a great moment for special needs kids and adults around the Tampa Bay area to have that unique baseball experience and enjoy the game.
I will be posting all my additional photos of the 2012 Toby Hall & Friends Celebrity Golf Classic on my Flickr page (Rays Renegade) if you might desire to re-post or download a photo for your own.
It was suppose to be a pairing party in advance of the 2012 Toby Hall and Friends Celebrity Golf Classic. It was suppose to be one of those meet and greet opportunities for the duffers to meet other members of their foursome, and also celebrate another awesome tournament. That was the plan Toby Hall had in his mind before he entered the Courtside Grille last night.
Instead it became an impromptu Retirement Party complete with the obligatory pine wooden rocking chair that party invitees were asked to sign and give their well wishes to Hall as he embarks on other adventures in his post MLB life like watching his kids grow up, and devote more time to his charity and other worthwhile endeavors. It was an event I did not want to miss.
There were people coming out of the proverbial woodwork for this honor like former Rays owner Vince Namoli who looked very relaxed and had even lost a few pounds. Former Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez came to the event as well as former Rays Bullpen Coach Glenn Ezell and current Bullpen Catcher/Enforcer Scott Cursi. The showing of support from former players on a night usually reserved for the menial task of assigning pairings was a complete success.
In the crowd was also former Rays OF Randy Winn, Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher/ Rays Bat boy Jesse Litsch, hurler Boof Bonser and Tampa Bay Bucs Defensive Back Ronde Barber. On the screens around the bar played a photo montage of Hall’s days both at Triple-A Durham, Tampa Bay and his stint with the White Sox. Food was plentiful, drinks were flowing and the room held a great vibe of well wishes and a few well placed cards and present for Hall and his family.
As the pairing were being announced, it was immediately noticeable that this season’s tournament had a few extra Rays names being bellowed out like P David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, SS Reid Brignac, CF B J Upton, RF Matt Joyce along with Rays farm Coach Ozzie Timmons, Jason Michaels and the always entertaining Gregg Zaun. Former Rays RP Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler Andy Sonnanstine, Rays Coaches Tom Foley and George Hendricks plus that strapping young lad, FSN Florida/Rays traveling ambassador of good times Todd Kalas. The event seems to have exploded this season with the addition of several Rays player who will be first time attendees this year. The show of great support for Hall and his main charity, the Miracle League should make this the best tournament turnout and fundraising in the Toby Hall Foundation’s history.
It was a great time to show our admiration and respect for a player who gave his all for the Rays, and is still considered the best to ever squat behind the plate. Hall may be leaving the game a bit earlier than he expected, or wanted, but his foundation, his children and his wife will be more devoted attention. If Hall takes to his retirement that way he called games and hit at the plate, then he will again be hitting for the fences. Go get ‘em Toby!
I remember once as a kid some one telling me that things happen for a reason. That fate, destiny and even the kiss of the Gods can not foresee some things that bring people together. I think this was focused more on romance than one two people bonding under a common goal, But I’ll take it.
So here on the last day of the “Charity week” I am going to tell you a story about how two different individuals got together and formed something that is changing lives. It is a reminder that two different worlds can combine and conquer anything in their path.
Jesse Litsch volunteered for a off season charity golf event back in November 2008. In his paring was a young financial wizard named Kevin Bechtel. The golfing event was to help children in the northern reaches of Pinellas County. During the nightly awards ceremony, the two shared stories of other charity tournaments they had both attended and came upon the realization that if they combined their charitable efforts, both could reach a wide spectrum and fulfill their passion of giving back to children in need.
Each told swapped stories about how Litsch had done fundraising and benefits before for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and Betchel told Litsch about his “Bikes For Kids” charity that gave bikes to needy and under privileged kids through the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Department. When both attended the opening of the Police Athletic League (PAL) center in the Lealman region of St. Petersburg, the bond began to form a tournament to facilitate the needs of both charities.
What might have cemented the bond was the way Litsch talked about how the PAL had helped mold him and performed a vital part of his life growing up in this region of Tampa Bay. Soon, Litsch attended the “Bikes for Kid” event that holiday season and Litsch witnessed firsthand the joy and passion of Bechtel’s own commitment to his program. That evening over 100 bikes and helmets were delivered by PCSD deputy’s. That day formed the basis of what became the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament.
The first joint effort between the two newly formed friends came in 2010 and expectations rose quickly as to the extend and paths the future could bring for both organizations, and for the tournament as a whole. I caught wind of the tournament right before the Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic and spoke with Jesse Litsch tournament organizer Sarah mire moment before I was heading out to help in that tournament.
When I saw Litsch that day on the golf course I spoke to him about my volunteering and he gave me that huge smile I had known for so many years when he was a Rays batboy/Rays intern. I was anxious for Friday to arrive so I could have my first experience of this tournament.
I got there just as Kevin from the Pinellas Park Boys & Girls club along with a few other volunteers were fitting each cart with some golf tees and some water for the days action. I then went up to the registration area and met Jesse’s fiancée and walked into an amazing silent auction site with just over 50 items up for bids. The items ranged from signed hockey sticks and framed signed photos to a pair of glistening exquisitely cut diamond earrings that held an appraisal price of $ 1,650.
Massage and photo opportunity for yourself or family, plus if you bid for a razor scooter, the charity will but another scooter with your bid for another youngster in the Tampa Bay community. But the thing that had me salivating was the chance to purchase 1 of 10 bats that were signed by every celebrity in attendance.
But there was some additional high brow auction’s out there that piqued my interest. A chance to join your favorite MLB player on the field for BP, plus two tickets to the game. A California Wine Country Tour complete with hotel accommodations, dinners and a plethora if wine tours and tasting’s. 2 tickets to Vinny Lecavalier’s suite for any Tampa Bay Lightning game. Two Park Hopper passes to any Walt Disney Park in the World.
The event was a “who’s Who in the Blue Jays organization such as pitchers’ Brett Cecil, Casey Jansen, Shawn Camp, Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, David Purcey, Scott Richmond, Jesse Carlson and Josh Roenicke. But not being outdone was the display of hitting talent from the Jays Jose Bautista, J P Arencibia, Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a few member in house today representing the Rays present and past. Shortstop Reid Brignac and reliever Andy Sonnanstine, plus former Rays catcher Toby Hall were all out here for the kids today. Heck even World Class skateboarder Anthony Furlong was out there giving his all for the event. And the display of interesting golfing attire was out with a fury today as both Bechtel and Litsch had on by far the most eye irritating pants of the event.
I am going to flash forward to the Awards dinner that was MC’ed by local television personality Charlie Belcher of Channel 13 fame. The show of support by Litsch’s Jays teammates combined with the other golfing competitors today made the night just seem to sing. This really felt more like a team gathering than a golf event with great bellowing laughs and bold predictions as to the tournament’s winners.
The team that actually pulled it out today was led by celebrity Toby Hall, who’s 5-some spotted a score of 55 over the 18 holes. But the real winners here today were the two charities of both Litsch and Bechtel. There were whispers in the air that night of an even larger event in the future, and possibly two or more years at this same golf course.
The Jays player community came out in force to support one of their own, and everyone involved vowed to be a part of the 2012 event. When a cause and a golfing event both run true to themselves, people want to be a part of it again and again. I hope to volunteer in 2012 for another go-round of fun in the Sun, competitive tomfoolery and to support two great and noble causes. By the way, I did end up bidding on one of those 10 autographed bats… all for a pair of great causes.
Day 2 of the Charity Week experience. This charity event actually took place last Thursday, but somehow I lost my little camera video card in the movement from the camera to the computer. Now that the day’s photos are safely within the computer, it is time to give you some of the highlights and tales from the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic.
This is my second year volunteering for this golfing event that first started out as a bowling event in Tampa so many years ago. Arrived at the Bayou Club gold clubhouse about 9:45-ish and immediately came face-to face with three off-duty members of the St. Petersburg Police Department.
They were there as special guests of Hall to participate in a fundraising event through their memorial T-shirt benefiting the families of two recently slain SPPD officers. During the charity event, the SPPD representatives set up a tent at the turning point or Hole 9.5 of the course and as the golfing pairs came up to do the putting challenge, they could also purchase T-shirts and speak to the officers( including a K-9 officer) that knew the two officers.
When Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder B J Upton’s 5-member pairing came up for the putting contest, Upton took a moment to go over to the SPPD tent and purchased not one, but over a dozen T-shirts, including one for everyone in his pairing group.
Fellow Rays Fans Wall of Fame member George Stone was on the scene again that day spreading the word about the featured charity of the event, The Miracle League. Some might not know that the Miracle League is a baseball league formed so that children of all ages with special needs and abilities can also enjoy the greatest game on dirt. At one point later in the evening, Stone actually got a verbal commitment from St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to attend the 2011 Opening Day event in St. Petersburg.
There were plenty of Rays, plus ex-Rays on hand this day helping Hall in his quest to help this great organization. I remember a few years ago when they completely re-constructed the Miracle League field in the Azalea region of St. Petersburg, just down the street from the old Rays Spring Training facility.
On hand that day supporting Hall’s charity event was Dan Wheeler (Red Sox), Jesse Litsch (Jays), Brian Stokes (Jays).Boof Bonser ( NY Mets), Jason Michaels (Astros), Trever Miller (Cardinals),Ryan Webb (Marlins), Gregg Zaun (Padres), Miguel Cairo (Reds). Bobby Wilson (Angels) and Jorge Cantu (Padres), plus former NBA star Matt Gieger and retired Bucs running back Mike Alstott.
Representing the Rays was Upton, starter James Shields, RP Andy Sonnanstine, and new RP Adam Russell. Also on hand were a few other well known Rays faces either from the Coaching ranks, or from their on-the-field reporting. Broadcaster Todd Kalas was joined on this day by current Rays Third Base Coach Tom Foley and former Rays Coaches Bill Evers ( Durham Bulls), Ozzie Timmons (Columbus Catfish) and former Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. Rays shortstop Reid Brignac was also scheduled to attend, but had an emergency.
I was stationed to begin the day in the registration area handing out specially made Toby Hall caps, visors and rain slickers. But just as it seemed I might have an early end to my day, I volunteered to run the putting contest. It was a great time in which each pairing member got a chance to hit one golf ball into a sectioned off squared area for multiples of points with a maximum of 10 points if you sunk your putt..
You could cut the air with a knife as to the early competitive nature of the event as Cairo was the closest to the hole for most of the day until 5 pairings from the end, the cream began to rise to the putting top of the pot. Local attorney David Papa, who was in the Wilson pairing found the center of the hole to become the first to thrust his team to a sizeable lead. ( total 14 points).
That total seemed safe until one of the last groups, which included LPGA star Brittney Linicome, had their first putting contestant Tim Nalls of American Marketing put in square in the hole. With an immediate 10 points, this team was quickly putting (bad pun) itself into contention for the Putting contest crown.
But suddenly we all noticed that Linicome, who had an early flight out of Orlando in the morning for a LPGA event had left before taking her putting chance. I made an executive putting contest decision to let Nalls put his way to either team victory, or a second place finish. The climatic moment was short lived as Nalls pulled his second try to the right and did not even register a single additional point. I wonder if Linicome would have gotten them that needed 5 points for their victory by putting her golf ball in the inner square within a foot of the hole? We will never know.
But the solace of placing second was definitely short lived by the Linicome pairing as they finished the event with a 52, good enough for the eventual top finish in the tournament and bragging right for the entire year. As the teammates from the Linicome pairing basked in the afterglow and celebrated at the after party at Courtside Grille minus Brittney. The real winner here was the Miracle League.
I have been proud the last two years of volunteering in this event, and also made a commitment that day to help another event that will be held this Friday. On that day I will be helping out the Jesse Litsch & Bechtel Financial Celebrity Golf Tournament in Oldsmar, Florida. How can I possibly complain, another great day in the Sun with athletes supporting their local charities and spreading the news of this great charitable golfing event.
I want to remind the Rays Republic that the memorial T-shirts that benefit the families of the two slain SPPD officers will be ongoing in the Tampa Bay community. You can contact, or visit the St. Petersburg Police Department’s lobby to purchase a T-shirt, or contact them about ongoing outside T-shirt opportunities within the community. Please support this worthy charity and remembrance of these Tampa Bay heroes.
Again I want to thank Tracey and her staff plus Toby for the adventures and memories. Believe me, I have more than a few moments to tell people about that would not fit on this post today. But that is the great thing about charity events like this that happen so close to Spring Training. The excitement levels in seeing past friends and the approaching report dates just adds to the zeal and essence of the tournament.
I am already looking forward to the 2012 event. I want to post a link here for the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches and hope that all of us can contribute in some way to a great organization that brings the love of the game to some that might not be able to run, hit or even pitch like everyone, but the smile and joy on their faces as they move around the bases makes it so worthwhile.
All photos taken at the 2011 Toby Hall Celebrity Golf Classic can be found in a photo set on Flickr.com