Kevin Burke was nestled in his Cardiff residence, but his heart was in Chico. The devastating wild fires that recently punished that region had an impact.
“I grew up in the area between Chico and Paradise,” Burke said. “And you never forget your hometown.”
It was an area which suffered unimaginable death and devastation. Burke, through social media, saw the havoc challenging his friends’ safety and possessions.
“These people were losing everything,” he said. “I felt so helpless.”
So Burke combined his affection for his buddies and the Encinitas Little League. He started an equipment drive for Paradise Little League and was awed by its results.
Paradise Little League was in the flames’ path, with its field and equipment sustaining significant damage. The PLL season, unlike those getting underway throughout North County, was going to be canceled.
Then Burke got busy.
Like a winter set forming off Swami’s, the thought of aiding the PLL kids gathered momentum. Burke’s project was grand for ELL but what if others got involved? His endeavor was pitched to Roberta Moore, the Little League’s District 31 president, and she helped spread the news.
Solana Beach LL? It had some gear and pitched in, as did Carmel Mountain Ranch. Poway American and National were in, with a donation which included pristine uniforms for the entire PLL. Del Mar American and Encinitas National were also contributing and we apologize for missing anyone.
“People really related to it and they wanted to be a part of it,” Burke said.
Burke’s son, Joe, mimicked Pops with his drive for the drive.
“We started to get help from all over which was really neat,” Joe said. “It seemed like everyone had something to donate.”
Soon Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was saluting ELL’s undertaking. Locally, KUSI and Fox 5 San Diego featured the boys and their empathy for children they had never met, and likely never will.
“Just to know we made a difference is enough,” Joe said.
ELL’s Chaz Gagne drove the loaded U-Haul to Paradise. Actually Gagne first met PLL president Pam Beauchamp in Chico.
“All the Paradise street signs had been burned down so she couldn’t give us directions on how to get there,” Gagne said.
When escorted to the PLL field, Gagne was flabbergasted.
“It looked like a war zone,” he said.
“The town had been closed for a month so people were just starting to come back in. For them, the emotions were still raw.”
Can the PLL season return as well? With North County Little Leagues’ help it will and it had registration last week.
“This could help us put the kids back on the field and give them a chance to play baseball in a year where they may have missed it,” Beauchamp said.
The missing link was how to unload this bounty of baseball kindness. Gagne’s son, Billy, attends Chico State University and he arranged for some brawn. His Sigma Chi fraternity members appeared and got the goodies in the right place in a pouring rain.
That these young men assisted on a dreary day instead of watching the NFL playoffs is telling.
“They were awesome,” the elder Gagne said. “They had a great attitude and ended up playing with the kids. Now they’ve offered to volunteer and cook hot dogs on PLL’s opening day.”
Everyone knows a hot dog tastes like prime rib at a baseball game. The kids will get to enjoy our national pastime, and a frankfurter or two, with an assist from North County.
“I’m still getting emails from people that I don’t know that want to help,” Burke said. “It’s amazing that a grass roots effort like this can produce these results.” And a baseball season that will long be remembered by Paradise Little League.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports