MARIETTA, Ga. - The more than 80 teams that operate under the East Cobb Baseball umbrella every year have made a name for the organization based on their success on the field of play. Now, one of the most prominent squads in the program is looking to do even more.
The East Cobb Braves 17u, with head coach Kevin Baldwin, have partnered with Matt Dale from S.M.A.R.T., Inc., (Socially Mature Athletes Reaching Thousands) in an effort to reach out to less fortunate young people in every community in which they play this summer, which will mostly extend across the Southeast.
"Our role as coaches is not only about what (the players) do between the lines but also about helping build character and teach these kids life lessons," Baldwin said in a news release. "I hope when kids leave after a season on the 17u Braves they not only walk away better baseball players but also positive role models for the community. This program will help us take our team to another level, personally and professionally."
The Braves 17u participated in their first S.M.A.R.T. event June 2-3 before a showcase in Nashville, Tenn., when they visited the Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital. EC Braves 17u top prospects Travis Demeritte, Chad Mabini, Kevin Davis and Keenan Innis went to the hospital decked out in their full EC Braves 17u uniforms and signed over 50 baseballs for the kids who were hospitalized.
"It was awesome to get the opportunity to do something like this," Demeritte, the nation's No. 8 overall prospect in the class of 2013 (No. 1 at third base) who is in Minneapolis Tuesday and Wednesday for the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase, said in the same release. "It was really cool to see that just us being there could put a smile on these kids' faces. I look forward to participating in more events like this where I have the opportunity to give back."
Dale is an East Cobb alum who played with Guerry Baldwin's teams in the early 2000s with big-league players like Zack Greinke and Brian McCann, among others.
"One of the bigger reasons I'm doing this, and I'm doing a lot of this stuff with S.M.A.R.T., is because Guerry helped me out a lot; there are a lot of things people do for people ... and there are a lot of intangibles that I learned growing up playing at East Cobb that you can't really put a price on," Dale said in a telephone interview with Perfect Game Monday night.
Dale ended up playing collegiately and became a coach within the East Cobb organization. He soon realized that there was a need for the younger players that he was now associated with to reach out through social media and start making positive associations through those outlets.
The idea was to encourage the young prospects to not only concentrate on baseball when they're on the road but to also volunteer time to local charities.
"I wanted to create a program to teach kids to do the right things," Dale said in the release. "Growing up, I really could have benefitted from a program like S.M.A.R.T."
During the telephone interview, Dale said he is not going to hold anything back when it comes to S.M.A.R.T.'s future plans.
"We're going to do as many events as we can (this summer) ... and my goal is to have least five houses a year built for Habitat For Humanity that involves S.M.A.R.T.," he said. "At East Cobb, we have the top athletes around that should be hammerin' nails."
The effort won't be confined to Atlanta's northwest suburbs. "We need to see the other side of the train tracks," Dale said in the telephone interview. "There's a few ways to look at these kids and I've seen both sides; there are some kids who are from that other side of those train tracks and they're coming up to north Atlanta to play ... and there are other players who are going to have more of a support squad. ... It's a bigger picture than that.
"People are very receptive and it's resonating with people," Dale continued. "I don't see any reason why we can't - at some point down the road - I don't see any reason why we're not raising over a $1 million a year."
East Cobb Baseball's continued friendship with Perfect Game is something Dale sees reaching well into the future. And anything that relationship can do to promote S.M.A.R.T. , Dale thinks will benefit everyone.
"We're very open for ideas and suggestions and I'm looking at this box of Perfect Game baseballs right now," he said. "We take Perfect Game baseballs everywhere we go and whatever we're doing, we're going to give them signed baseballs because the next Jason Heyward is going to be in there with a Perfect Game baseball. Either way, the sky's the limit."