By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to AllOTSEGO.com
Once upon a time, retired Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson was a center fielder for the Newton Central Little League.
And though he retired from baseball at age 12, he never forgot the importance of the field.
Since stepping down as Hall of Fame president, Idelson co-founded Grassroots Baseball, a program aimed at getting 21st Century youngsters into the game with talks, equipment and a chance to play with Hall of Famers.
“The overeaching goal of Grassroots Baseball is to give back by providing inspiration, instruction and equipment to help ensure more children have the opportunity to learn, play and enjoy the game,” he said in a press release from San Francisco.
He partnered with Hall of Fame photographer Jean Fruth to create the program, which launched in May.
Fruth has been a photographer for nearly two decades and shooting baseball for the past 15 years. She covered the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, before turning her attention to the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, where she helped to build the museum’s profile and photo archive.
Her photograph book, “Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin,” is the first in the series, and this summer, she will shoot for a second, titled “Grassroots Baseball: Route 66.”
“I’ve learned that the game is more than just a sport – it is dreams and aspirations for so many youngsters wherever I go,” said Fruth.
“The culture of baseball is so much bigger than just what happens on the field. I look forward to continuing the journey of documenting the amateur game, inspiring the next generation of young ball players and telling the stories of Grassroots Baseball with my images.”
Since May, Grassroots Baseball has been out on a “Route 66” touch, where Hall of Famers and retired Major League stars will meet with children to instruct and inspire them.
This week, Idelson and Fruth are joined by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage at Isotopes Park with the Boys & Girls Club of Albuquerque, N.M. The kids will get a new Rawlings glove and baseball and play catch with Gossage.
Other participating Hall of Fame and Route 66 legends include Johnny Bench, George Brett and Jim Thome.
Previously, they had been in Peoria and Chicago, Ill, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas. Idelson has been chronicling the journey on the Grassroots website, grassrootsbaseball.com.
“Baseball is about celebrating kids around the globe who play and enjoy the game,” Idelson. “Whether they’re playing in a park, on a sandlot, in the streets, or in a minor league ballpark.”