Baseballs 4 A Better Community covers all bases
Ever since he was a little kid, Trumbull High School junior Connor Bailo has known the most important skill to being a good baseball player on and off the field.
While hitting, fielding and baserunning are key fundamentals of America’s pastime, Bailo believes what keeps the love of the game alive, from generation to generation, is the people who actively try to teach and share it with others.
That’s why the 16-year-old entrepreneur founded BaseBalls 4 A Better Community (BB4BC) last fall, motivated to collect and donate baseballs to help inner city children from underprivileged backgrounds.
“My parents instilled in me the importance of helping those less fortunate at a very young age, and when I told my dad about the idea he thought it was the perfect partnership for the two things I really love — the game of baseball and working with kids,” said Bailo, the non-profit’s CEO, who will host a fund-raising event with the Bridgeport Bluefish at Harbor Yard Saturday, May 7.
“The game has taught me lessons that I’ll need throughout my life — teamwork, sportsmanship, how to deal with adversity and failure — and it’s also given me some of my best memories, playing with my dad and my friends.”
Bailo, who started playing baseball when he was 6, has collected more than 1,700 baseballs.
But he’s got a much larger number in mind.
“My goal is to collect one million,” he told The Times. “I’m just starting out, so it may take a while, but the baseballs keep coming in and it’s fun to see how many people want to donate and where they’re donating from.”
From Seattle in the Pacific Northwest to Denver in the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, BB4BC has spanned the country coast to coast in its first year.
And donations have come in many forms.
There’s a monetary contribution that goes toward buying new baseballs that can be made on bb4bc.org using PayPal or a credit card or sending Bailo a check to his address in Trumbull.
Then there’s the physical contribution of mailing baseballs — or having the Trumbull teen come pick them up.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
That’s exactly what happened in January when Bailo visited Major League Baseball’s headquarters in New York City, where he met with the league’s head of youth services in the office of Commissioner Rob Manfred and pitched why his charity was worth a partnership.
He walked out with a dozen or more balls to take home and put in his parents’ garage for the next 1,000-baseball donation, which he hopes to acquire before the end of May.
“The new commissioner is all about having baseball in inner city communities and furnishing these urban leagues with baseballs,” explained Bailo, who made his first 1,000-baseball donation to the Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders on Dec. 31. “And to have that support — and to have my idea be affiliated with the MLB — is pretty cool.
“They’ve given me a list of urban leagues in need, and that’s motivating me even more because I know these young players are relying on me,” he said. He hopes BB4BC can work with the MLB to equip its Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program.
Since the meeting in the Big Apple, the non-profit founder has received balls from professional teams like the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins and major league events like the Home Run Derby and the All Star Game.
However, the most special donation so far has come from the Boston Red Sox — Bailo’s favorite team.
“They were the first team I got baseballs from, which was pretty special,” said Bailo, whose favorite player is the team’s second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.
“He doesn’t take a single play off and he’s always walking off the field with a dirty jersey,” said the Trumbull teen and former second baseman about the two-time World Series champion. “I think his work ethic is really admirable because he never gives up.”
Pedroia’s work ethic has translated to how Bailo attacks fund raising for BB4BC.
“To get donations, you have to make more than one call; you have to be persistent and stay on that person,” he explained.
‘One thing you can never outgrow’
Besides his being raised in a household where giving back was championed, Bailo said, BB4BC was spawned from his experience playing travel baseball in Fairfield County.
“I played a lot in Bridgeport and New Haven growing up, and I got to see those other teams didn’t have the same caliber of equipment as us,” he said. “Ironically, it’s a wide spectrum, because 15 minutes the other way you have Westport and they probably had the nicest equipment you can ever imagine.”
In addition to travel baseball in Connecticut, the 16-year-old CEO said he got his first world experience back in 2012 when he and his father went to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series and saw the national team from Uganda compete without cleats.
“There was an outpouring of support for them on the news, and that’s when it started to come full circle for me,” he said.
“It hit me right there in the stands that you can outgrow cleats and gloves, but the one thing you can never outgrow is a baseball.”
From the stands in Williamsport almost four years ago to creating the website last fall to meeting in the commissioner’s office on Park Avenue this January to filing his first tax return last month, Bailo has been incredibly busy for someone his age.
In addition to handling all of BB4BC’s day-to-day operations, he’s a full-time student who's currently preparing for his driver’s license test so he can maximize the number of donations he receives in a given month.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also volunteering this spring as an assistant coach for Trumbull Travel, his old Little League team.
The experience of coaching 10-year-olds has been a positive one, he said, but it hasn’t left much time to sift through emails and make calls for BB4BC.
“It’s all on me,” he said. “I like staying busy, though — it’s a good learning experience.
“The key is doing a little something every day,” he added. “We started off a bit slow because I wasn’t as focused as I would have liked to have been, but we’re picking up steam.”
Growing into something big
One day, the Trumbull teen would like to build a baseball field for underprivileged kids.
For now, he’s happy to plan for events like Saturday night’s fund-raiser at Harbor Yard Stadium in Bridgeport that kicks off at 6:12 p.m.
“It’s the first thing I’ve really ever planned out,” he said. “I’ve met with the Bluefish’s management team three times and they’re 100% supportive of me and my idea.”
Being a young entrepreneur with a full set of responsibilities has taught Bailo the importance of multi-tasking and communication.
“The media exposure has helped a lot,” he admitted. “I’m no longer nervous, because I’ve been interviewed multiple times and been on hundreds of radio shows across the country.
“You have to be ready for it; you have to sound the part and be convincing,” he said. “The spotlight has definitely helped season me.”
As time has gone on, the size of the organization has grown and he knows he needs to continue to be committed to grow with it.
“As the stakes grow higher, my ability to speak will have a direct impact on how the business does and it’ll help me get the extra donations I need to meet my goals,” he said. “I’ll always have time to put into it because it’s something I’m deeply passionate about.”
For more information about Saturday night’s game between the Bridgeport Bluefish and the Long Island Ducks, go to bb4bc.org and use code bb4bc to purchase tickets. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any additional questions and donation requests.