Big league play­ers pitch in to ren­o­vate fields, men­tor youth

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - NEWS - By MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY Email Michael Brestovansky at mbresto­van­sky@ hawai­itri­bune-her­

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.”

HOLLYN JOHN­SON/Tri­bune-Her­ald

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.

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