8/18/12: On Friday, August 3rd, the Middlesex Brewers defeated the Brockton A's, 12-2. But that's not the real story.

Throwing together a charity baseball game is no small feat. The game itself is the easy part, not that different from any other game. The tricky part is coordinating the whole thing: obtaining a special venue, creating a draw for the participants, and motivating the athletes to lead the fundraising. Last month, Jim Sweeney of the Men’s Senior Baseball League’s Brockton Athletics pulled off his first charity game: KO Cancer. Even with no prior experience, Sweeney hit this one out of the park.

Ed Nottle (Rox skipper), Franz Strassmann (Middlesex Brewers),  Doug Flutie (Patriots), Jim Sweeney (Brockton A's), Oil Can Boyd (Red Sox)
Ed Nottle (Rox skipper), Franz Strassmann (Middlesex Brewers),
Doug Flutie (Patriots), Jim Sweeney (Brockton), Oil Can Boyd (Red Sox)
oug Flutie pitching for the Middlesex Brewers
Doug Flutie pitching for the Middlesex Brewers

Jim Sweeney’s mother, Laura Sweeney, and aunt, Susan Schulze, are both breast cancer survivors. He wanted to do something in their honor, and also for others in need within his local community.

“I wanted to get behind a cause. And my team wanted to do something bigger and better than what they’ve done before,” Sweeney said on getting himself and his A’s to back an event.

Within the Signature Health Care network was Brockton Hospital. From Sweeney’s days in the real estate business, he had built a relationship with a client from the hospital that connected him with Jeff Miller, Signature Healthcare’s VP of Philanthropy. Miller loved the idea for a charity baseball game, and told Sweeney they’d be happy to lend his organization’s name to an event, as long as Sweeney would own it. And so he did.

“At the time,” Sweeney said, “I wasn’t really sure what went into it. I knew that we’d need to provide the game. And that all the revenues from the game, the hospital would keep to support the HOPE Fund, designated toward those who couldn’t afford breast cancer care.”

Brockton Hospital had an existing relationship with the Brockton Rox of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. With Jeff Miller’s support, Sweeney secured Campanelli Stadium for the game. The catch? Sweeney was now personally on the hook to sell $2,000 worth of tickets for a forthcoming Rox game. In return, he’d to get to use Campanelli for KO Cancer.

“I hadn’t even selected an opponent yet, so that number of tickets definitely scared me,” Sweeney told me. “I originally talked to JM Force, since that team had asked players from my team to play in a previous tournament. But response was slow. So I contacted Franz Strassmann from Middlesex Brewers. They were in.”

Sweeney obtain 500 tickets from the Rox and priced them at $10 each. He’d net $3,000 if he was able to sell all the tickets.

“When you have 500 tickets in your hand, you wonder who will really buy from you. But I divided up the tickets between about 40 guys from both teams, and gave about 8 to each Brewer and 10 to each A’s player – since we were the local team. Some players sold more than that, but they were all sold.”

Sweeney sold 92 tickets himself, and 100 more at gate on game day, Friday, August 3rd.

With tickets taken care of, Sweeney and Strassmann went to work to secure sponsors, raffle items, and celebrities for the game.

Securing sponsored innings proved to be harder than expected, but they sold 3 innings at about $500 per inning, plus about a dozen $100 sponsors. Each sponsor received a PA Announcement during the game and an insert in the Rox program.

Players on the A’s and Brewers leveraged their own connections to obtain items for a raffle. Bob Thomas of the Brewers leveraged his role at Liberty Mutual to donate a signed Jim Rice wine decanter from the Corked Bat Collection. Joe Barros levered his position at LoJack to contribute a theft recovery package. Everything from restaurant gift certificates to Red Sox tickets to Karate lessons were donated. The Lowell Spinners even held a silent auction with signed sports memorabilia where all net proceeds were donated.

Of course, no charity baseball game would be complete without a celebrity or two to incent the players to contribute, and to draw a gameday crowd.

“Each celebrity came together in a unique way. Davey Joseph on my team (Brockton A’s) has a lot of contacts, and brought a list of local people he knew, including Dennis ‘Oil Can’ Boyd. He got Oil Can on the phone and handed it to me. On the spot, Oil Can agreed to do it. Davey told me I needed to check in with Oil Can every 2-3 weeks, one week before, and the day of, just to make sure he’d be there. It was a very interesting conversation each time. It was one sentence about the game, then some crazy MLB story.”

Oil Can Boyd was the starting pitcher for the Brockton A’s, tossing 3 innings, and allowing 3 runs.

New England Patriot’s legend Doug Flutie plays a lot of amateur baseball. This season, he plays with the Reading Bulldogs in the Intercity league, plus the Natick Knights and Waltham Braves in the MSBL. Strassmann, who plays on several teams, is a teammate of Flutie’s on Waltham.

Sweeney recapped: “I was at Franz’ house when he called Doug. He answered and Franz had him on speaker and he agreed on the spot. We all know how supportive Flutie is with charities, so we were happy to have him involved.”

Doug Flutie was the starting pitcher for the Middlesex Brewers, recorded 3 shutout innings, and was the winning pitcher of record.

I asked Sweeney how he decided who would get each celebrity pitcher on their roster.

“Being that it was a regular season game and counts in the standings, we let Franz take Flutie since he found him. I would have been happy to take either pitcher. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

Sweeney commented on his state of mind during the game.

“Getting all the celebrities in place, batting practice, national anthem, announcing both line-ups, moment of silence. After all that, I took it easy and said ‘Now we can just play.’”

Clearly, it was a tad more stressful as event organizer. Sweeney himself pitched the 4th, 5th and 6th innings for the Athletics. While 6-3 with a 2.52 ERA to that point in the season with Brockton, he allowed 7 runs in those 3 innings.

“My mind was in a million places during the game. I was just kind of relieved during that point.”

Before the game, there were several niceties that Sweeney had coordinated.

Former NBA journeyman and Boston Celtics player from 1995 through 2000, Dana Barros, was on hand to throw out the first pitch.

Former Pawtucket Red Sox and Brockton Rox skipper, Ed Nottle, who compiled a 187-175 record with a 2003 championship during his tenure with the Rox, was on hand to lend support.

Dave Joseph, also former batting practice coach for the Brockton Rox, tossed batting practice for both teams before the game –quite a treat for amateur players used to playing on city fields.

Steve Joseph (Dave’s son), and current Brockton A’s pitcher, arranged a moment of silence prior to the game for Jeanne Price of Brockton who had lost her battle with cancer at age 36, almost a year before the game. Her entire family came down, including her two children, to support the effort.

The Middlesex Brewers went on to defeat the Brockton A’s, 12-2, but the real final score has yet to be tallied.

“We’re still having money come in. I wouldn’t be surprised if when all is said and done we raise as much as $10,000.

I asked Sweeney about his personal victories from the game:

“In the dugout, my teammates were thanking me left and right for doing this game. But the players are the ones with passion. People play baseball into their 30’s because they love the game. To play baseball for a good cause, and to have your entire family come out and watch you play, it means something to you, and it means a whole lot to somebody else – somebody with cancer. It’s paying it forward for somebody else.”

KO Cancer

Just a month after completion of this year’s inaugural game, plans are already underway for next year’s 2nd Annual KO Cancer game.

Those wishing to make a donation may visit facebook.com/TheBrocktonAthletics, make a comment, and will be responded to promptly.