A lot of folks living in DC grew up with baseball. They’re Cubs fans from Chicago, or Red Sox fans from somewhere in New England that isn’t really Boston. But for people who grew up here, the closest thing we had was the Orioles, just over an hour from from DC. For some families it did the job. But there’s a difference between doing the job and serving as part of the foundation of a community.
So when I sat across from Washington Nationals Senior Director of Community Relations Israel Negron and he told me “When we talked about the benefits of bringing a team to DC, this is what we talked about,” I saw what the Nationals have become. The team’s success is combining with larger community relations events than ever before, and the Nationals are becoming a cornerstone of community activity in the DC area.
This year’s Washington Nationals Memorial Day Baseball Tournament – a partnership with Kyle’s Kamp benefiting Children’s National Medical Center – was exactly the kind of event that binds a community to its team. The numbers speak for themselves: last year’s tournament was not held in partnership with the Nationals, and 24 local youth baseball teams raised $12,000. This year, in partnership with the Nats, the event grew to over 160 teams and raised over $400,000 by the tournament’s first night, when 4,000 local youth baseball players came out to Nationals Park to participate in the opening ceremonies.
It seems almost impossible for an event to grow so enormously from its first to its second year, but thanks to over six months of hard work on the part of Rob Hahne, Founder of Kyle’s Kamp, and the tournament’s planning committee, as well as a special opportunity offered up by the Nationals, there is reason to think the event will only continue to grow.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, participating youth teams from across the DC area worked to raise money, inspired by fellow ball player Kyle Hahne – Rob’s son – who was diagnosed with T cell leukemia in October 2010. The six teams to raise the most money would be rewarded with the chance to play their first game of the tournament on the field at Nationals Park.
“They’re warming up on the same field they watch on TV every day,” Negron said, gesturing to the players. The proof that this incentive worked is in the fundraising. Each of the top six teams that won a game at Nationals Park raised $18,000-$30,000, with all 160 teams combining for $100,000 just on the final day of the Nationals Park competition.
The over $400,000 raised in total will benefit the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Medical Center, with this donation dedicated to raising the level of care available to patients who could benefit from clinical trials – the 15-20% of patients whose illnesses do not respond to traditional therapy. Needless to say, given that last year’s event raised $12,000, Children’s is surprised by this year’s fundraising total.
“The scale of this is phenomenal,” said Dr. Sadhna Shankar. “We’re very touched by the commitment. This gift will bring about significant change.”
“When I said the goal was $250,000 and 160 teams, people laughed at me… Who’s laughing now?” Hahne said. “The love, the passion, the support when you bring people together, is proof: We should work together as a community to do things like this.”
Hahne plans to work over the coming years to bring the Kyle’s Kamp model to other teams, hoping to make it a Memorial Day tradition that spans the nation, teaching kids to about the importance of giving back. But for the time being Hahne, the event planning board, and their partners the Washington Nationals will set their sights on next year’s one million dollar fundraising goal, when participants across the DC area hope Rob’s son Kyle, now in maintenance treatment for his leukemia, will be on hand to join in the festivities.