Big league players pitch in to renovate fields, mentor youth
A nonprofit from California is working to renovate youth baseball fields in Hilo this week with the help of some professionals: three Major League Baseball players.
Mike Miller, infielder for the Boston Red Sox; Mitch Haniger, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners; and Joey Wagman, pitcher for the Oakland A’s, arrived this week to work with the nonprofit More Than A Game to renovate the baseball fields at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island.
Marshall Murray, founder of More Than A Game, said the nonprofit works with professional athletes to empower communities through work and interaction with young athletes.
“I was here in Hilo with Michael Miller in January and we met with the Boys & Girls Club people and saw their fields weren’t in the best shape,” Murray said.
The Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island, an afterschool program for children and teenagers, has two small baseball diamonds at its program location in Hilo.
Lincoln Wreckers parent-coach Koa Marzo said approximately 60 children have used the fields regularly in the past year, in spite of dense overgrowth and dilapidated infrastructure.
“The lower field’s dugout has no roof, it’s rotted through,” Marzo said. “And it’s been harboring homeless people and it’s been a safe place for people to do drugs, and it’s not the sort of thing we want around here.”
Since January, Marzo cleared much of the overgrowth but there’s still work to be done. Fences need to be repaired, turf needs to be replaced, new mounds need to be built and more, Murray said.
“It feels good to work like this,” Miller said. “We’re not just coming over and doing an honorary ceremony, we’re staying in the community and getting our hands dirty. I’m not just a figurehead.”
Haniger said the three players know each other from their college days at California Polytechnic State University. When Murray, who coached Miller’s brother, invited the three to work with More Than A Game during the offseason, they agreed.
“I wanted to give back, help kids in need,” Haniger said.
When the players aren’t repairing the fields, they coach young players, help with their homework or simply talk with them about their futures.
Murray said Haniger brought the children of the Boys & Girls Club signed bats, while Miller brought two bags of official major league baseballs when they first met Monday.
“When you’re a kid, you look up, you want to be a professional athlete or an astronaut or whatever, and people say that’ll never happen,” Haniger said. “And, yeah, it probably won’t, but if you can focus on what you can do each day to reach that goal, then it still gets you somewhere.”
Miller said this is his fourth such trip with More Than A Game since he joined last year, having worked in Richmond and Guadalupe in California and another in Rhode Island.
“A lot of kids don’t have access to these opportunities,” he said. “It’s good to let them know there’s people out there rooting for them. I’ve seen kids take off with just a little bit of love.”
MLB players, back row with hats, Joey Wagman of the Oakland A’s, Mitch Haniger of the Seattle Mariners and Mike Miller of the Boston Red Sox pose for a photograph with a group of Boys & Girls Club keiki while taking a break from renovating the baseball field at the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Island in Hilo.