JUPITER, Fla. -- Kieran Lovegrove, a native of South Africa, is playing with a smile in his heart at the WWBA World Championship.
Lovegrove, just 16 years old, helped found the Going To Bat Foundation in 2009 to give underprivileged kids an opportunity to play baseball and softball. Most of the donations have been given to young people in California, but a sizeable donation was sent to an impoverished township in South Africa last year.
Helping those kids in South Africa made Lovegrove feel especially good.
"Thirty bats, maybe 20 pairs of cleats, 100 baseballs, a lot of uniforms," he said Friday. "I mean, I couldn't count how many uniforms, pants, socks we did. A lot of gloves. Basically as much as we could for them, so they could all have the opportunity to play baseball."
That entire shipment was sent to the township of Phillippi in South Africa, where the Phillippi Angels were the proud and happy recipients. In return, Lovegrove received pictures of happy kids playing baseball on a makeshift field, along with thank-you notes.
"Even in their broken English, you can tell how happy they were," he said. "The smiles really made the difference."
Lovegrove is delighted to help. His family moved from South Africa to the United States in 1999 when he was 5, giving him a chance to play baseball, enjoy the game he loves and grow up in a healthy environment in Orange County, California.
Lovegrove, a junior at Mission Viejo High School, recently committed to Arizona State and plans to keep working for the foundation in college. He's proud of the Going to Bat Foundation and wants to do more in the future.
He speaks fondly about helping those kids in South Africa.
"It really does hit home with me," said Lovegrove, a 6-foot-4 pitcher. "Knowing that I'm giving kids the opportunity to play a game that I've loved my whole life, it kind of makes me feel like I've done something so much bigger."
Lovegrove has not returned to South Africa since his family left for the United States 11 years ago, but he has dual citizenship in both countries. He'd like to visit South Africa someday soon, especially Phillippi, to meet the kids he's been able to help.
"That would be indescribable," he said.
Lovegrove is busy playing for the ABD Bulldogs in the WWBA World Championship this week in Florida, but he's happy to talk about the Going to Bat Foundation and its good work. He began the foundation with two friends in Orange County -- Adam Salcido and Kyle Candalla -- after Lovegrove's father, Keith, showed his son a video of the Phillippi team trying to play baseball without proper equipment on a hard-scrabble field.
The main idea of the foundation is to help underprivileged kids in California, but Lovegrove and his family, embracing their roots, decided to help the kids in South Africa as well.
"I'm extremely proud of all three of them, really. They're great kids," Keith Lovegrove said Friday. "They decided they should be giving something back, because they play in such fantastic conditions in Orange County in California."
Lovegrove's two friends are sophomores and don't play for the ABD team that's competing at the WWBA World Championship.
The foundation has its own web site at GoingToBat.org. Anyone wishing to make a donation of new equipment, used equipment or money is invited to visit the web site and get involved.
The foundation has received generous donations from various organizations in California. Lovegrove would like to send another shipment to South Africa, but the shipping costs alone make it a difficult proposition.
"I really wish we could do more," his father remarked.
Keith Lovegrove was born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa. He worked in the telephone industry and wasn't planning to leave South Africa until one fateful day in 1999, when a scheduled business meeting at a Planet Holleywood restaurant nearly turned into a personal disaster. The meeting was scheduled for 6:30 but never took place, a victim of the rising crime rate in South Africa at the time.
"They blew up the restaurant at 6:20. And that was the final straw," he said. "That's when I put the wife and the kids on the plane. I stayed for six months and settled things and came over later. It was just a little too close to home."
His wife, Kelly, was from California and had lived with Keith in South Africa for 11 years. They all moved to Orange County, where Keith went to work for AT&T. Their daughter, Kayla, is currently a student at the University of Arizona. Kieran will be headed to Arizona State in two years. The family has done well.
Now Kieran is giving back, to kids in California and South Africa.
"The word is definitely spreading," he said.