The Bond of Ball
With a mission to coach, teach and inspire youth to recognize their potential and realize their dreams through baseball and softball, World Baseball Outreach is changing lives in over 60 countries.
There is no official sign out front, no way to know for sure that you’ve reached the World Baseball Outreach headquarters except for the address on the front of the building. But step inside and you’ll see a welcoming space that smells and sounds of baseball. AstroTurf, batting cages, pitching stands — it’s all to help young people gain life skills as well as skills on the baseball field.
Run by founder and executive director Jerry Jacobson, and his wife, Barbara, the World Baseball Outreach has a mission to coach, teach and inspire youth to recognize their potential and realize their dreams through baseball and softball. The inspiration behind this faith-based nonprofit goes back to a missionary trip Jerry took to Nicaragua in 1995.
“Somebody said, ‘Hey, they play baseball everywhere down there. You’re a baseball nut. You ought to take a couple of gloves or something,’” says Jerry. “So, I rounded up a couple gloves, a couple balls. In about 15 minutes of being off the plane, I had given them away because my heart was ripped out seeing what they had to play with — these milk cartons smashed against their hands or soft gloves for work, not a baseball glove.”
When he returned home, Jerry began gathering baseball equipment with the intention of sending it overseas to youth in need. There was just one problem: nobody wanted it. He was worried he had made a mistake. But as he told his story to a co-worker, a moment of serendipity happened. The co-worker’s church was planning a baseball mission trip to Russia, and normally they had plenty of equipment to take. But that year, they were short on both equipment donations and time.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Jerry says. “And from there, it just seemed to take off.”
Today, World Baseball Outreach ships donated equipment all over the world through their partnership with organizations such as Orphan Grain Train, a Christian volunteer network that ships donated food, clothing, medical and other needed items to people in 62 different countries.
Locally, the Jacobsons reached out to a boys’ home, building a shed to house the boys’ equipment. “We went from an equipment ministry to doing clinics at different boys and girls clubs and things like that,” Jerry says. “We wanted to change lives in a positive way and lead them to Christ.”
The organization took an even bigger leap after another moment of serendipity. Jerry was watching TV with a co-worker when a commercial for RBI — Major League Baseball’s program for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — came on. The co-worker suggested they get involved, and though Jerry knew it would be a lot of work, he eventually committed to doing a league. The payoff has been tremendously worth it, he says.
“When we first started the RBI league in 2011,” Jerry says, “we were seeing children three to four times a week instead of just once a month.” With this regular interaction, lives were changing for the better. The community rallied behind the effort, and now World Baseball Outreach offers RBI teams for youth ages 4 to 15. The program has grown to serve more than 800 boys and girls each year, and there are plans to expand and reach more youth up to age 19.
Youth who participate in the RBI league play a 10-week season starting in spring or fall, including playoffs. The league is coed, and WBO provides the equipment, places to practice and play, free uniforms and more. RBI offers scholarships to participants who remain in the league, making it a great tool for helping Tulsa’s youth go on to earn a higher education.
The changes that participants in the RBI league undergo can be transformative. One example, Jerry says, is Marvin. “He came to us when he was 7. He’s going to be a senior this year,” Jerry says. Through his connection to programs like WBO and the Dream Center, Marvin has been making all A’s and excelling in baseball as well.
“All he needed was the right environment and structure. We’re very proud of that boy.” From the pride and emotion in their voices, it’s clear that Jerry and Barbara care deeply about the welfare of the children they are reaching. “They’re just the most awesome children, but they just need a chance,” says Jerry.
To help raise funds for their nonprofit, the Jacobsons also operate the WBO Sports Center — a state-of-the-art, 20,000-square foot turfed facility where youth can sign up for baseball and softball lessons, camps, clinics and batting cage practice. The profits of the center are funneled into the WBO’s charitable work. “It feeds into the endowment program that we have, and it feeds into the RBI program that we have for the children,” says Jerry.
One cool thing about the center is the quality of athletes who come in to help youth hone their skills. Tulsa, it seems, has a serious contingent of pro athletes who teach lessons at WBO. “We have former Major League pitchers in here doing lessons,” says Jerry. “We have George Frazier, who has played with the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, and his son, Parker. We have Bill Springman, a hitting instructor formerly of the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. We have Rick Wrona, who played for the Cubs and a few other teams.”
WBO is a 501(c)(3), and donations of any size are welcome. “You know, $10 donations go a long way here,” Jerry says. They also have many volunteer opportunities, including after-school help with homework, preparing donated clothing and equipment for distribution to those in need, graphics and writing, coaching, cheer squad and more. “Our volunteers are being impacted as much as, if not more than, the people we serve,” says Barbara.
World Baseball Outreach
6217 S. Mingo Road | Tulsa
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