by Mellissa Thomas
With University of Central Florida’s baseball season only thirty days away, it seemed fitting that professional baseball player and UCF Knight Chris Duffy brought his 2nd Annual Celebrity Softball Game back to University of Central Florida’s Jay Bergman Field on Saturday, January 17, 2015, with proceeds benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. The three-and-a-half-hour event brought out celebrity and pro athletes for a thrilling game and fun time with Central Florida children and families, from football, basketball, and baseball players, to celebrity chefs, media personalities, and even political figures, like Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District 2 Supervisor, Daisy Morales.
Meeting the Foundations
The event kicked off with “Meet the Foundations,” an hour-long segment that allowed the attendees to walk the grounds and meet the vendors, many of which were non-profit organizations across Florida, including Clean the World, ChampionShips, Inc., Kids Beating Cancer, Tender Loving Care Center of Hope, Inc., Created Families, Inc., Above .500 Inc., Duffy’s own event coordination non-profit, We Throw It! LLC, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida.
Other event sponsors and vendors included Power 95.3, who spun the tunes all evening courtesy of DJ Infa Red; Victory Casino Cruises, Graffiti Junktion American Burger Bar, who sold burgers, hot dogs, chips, and sodas; and celebrity chef and three-time “Cupcake Wars” winner Hollis Wilder’s Sweet By Holly, selling gourmet cupcakes.
The next hour-and-a-half was batting practice, which gave the players some time to warm up, sign autographs for kids while they waited in the dugout, and thanks to the game announcer, also introduced the audience to each player. The game itself commenced at 7:30 p.m.
Raising Funds More than One Way
Instead of following the typical formula of donating proceeds from only ticket sales and perhaps a raffle, Duffy utilized several avenues to garner the funds. The game offered fans a chance to participate in a 50/50 raffle and a silent auction for high-ticket items, including a recliner and autographed memorabilia; Platinum Royalties Card, another event sponsor, held a raffle of its own; and more uniquely, the game’s home runs were sponsored. Platinum Royalties Card, Competitor Gym Orlando, and Kings Bowling made varying donations based on the number of runs scored with each home run.
Celebs Who Love a Good Cause
Several players and celebrity attendees expressed their passion for serving the community and how much fun they had at the game. AJ Kirby Jones, who was Duffy’s roommate last year while playing for the Sioux Falls Canaries, said he loves giving back to the kids. “He [Duffy] pressured me to play,” Jones said smiling, since he wasn’t in last year’s game.
This year’s game was also a first for Wilder (above), who is no stranger to philanthropy. “We donate cupcakes all over Florida,” she said while waiting for her turn during batting practice. She explained that she relocated here from L.A. and learned there were no cupcake shops in Florida, so she open the first self-serve yogurt and cupcake shop, and it was at that time that Food Network approached her to compete in its first season of “Cupcake Wars.”
Sanchez, who works closely with Duffy, provided extra insight into his connection with the games and other events. “We use the games and tournaments to raise funds for our Dream Rallies, which are free for public schools. The speakers are all athletes, and they bring balance. We talk to the kids about the media, because they think what they see on TV is real, and it has an effect on them.” His goal is to continue working with Duffy and hosting other events to keep the rallies going and embark on a national school speaking tour. “The athletes love it, because they get to give back, and the kids love it.”
Three-time Grammy-nominated producer Ayo, who met Sanchez and Duffy last year and is currently working with Sanchez to start a new record label for positive Hip Hop music, spoke highly of the game. He unfortunately couldn’t play due to fractured ribs he sustained in a recent accident, but was there to support Duffy, Sanchez, and the cause. “It’s amazing,” he said while watching the batting practice. “I’m curious to see who’ll win. And as long as the kids have fun, that’s all that matters.”
For Bo Outlaw and Ray Lankford, this hits a little closer to home. Both men participated in not only Boys & Girls Clubs programs while growing up, but in many others as well. “Whoever let me in, I was there,” Outlaw said. He met Duffy through a mutual friend, and since he played baseball in college, participating in the softball game made sense, and this is Outlaw’s second year. He said of Duffy’s future events, “As long as I’m invited, I’ll be there.”
Lankford, who is new to the event this year, shared a similar story. “Everything that was free, I was involved,” he recalled of his childhood in Compton. Raised by his grandparents, he took to sports early on, and his grandparents fostered his athletic growth from there. “It kept me out of trouble.”
Batting with the Stars
Blake Bortles was a fan favorite and stayed after the game for photos with the kids by the press wall, as did New York Yankees’ Dante Bichette, Jr. Power 95.3’s Ricky Padilla, Superbowl champion Nick Collins, MLB All-Star Dee Gordon, Marquis Daniels, and celebrity chef Alfred Mann were also among the many players of the night.
Duffy split the stars into two teams: the tan-gray jerseys were Team Knights, and the white jerseys Team Duff (since Duffy was a white jersey himself). Team Duff boasted some power players, including NFL player Daunte Culpepper, softball star Stephanie Best, former Orlando Magic player Bo Outlaw, Hollis Wilder, Shane “Downtown” Brown, World Series MVP David Eckstein, who also played in last year’s game, and Bortles himself.
Team Knights was not to be underestimated, including Above .500 Inc. CEO Brawley Sanchez, whose organization was the non-profit beneficiary in the 2014 game, Michael “Dancing Machine” Gaines, and St. Louis Cardinals great Ray Lankford.
The game was a thriller, with Duffy hitting the single grand slam of the game in the third inning. The score reached 16-15 by the sixth, and the final score was 19-17, Team Duff. According to Duffy, the players collectively hit “about fifteen home runs”, raising a large sum for BGCCF.
“All the players had fun,” Duffy exuberantly said Tuesday. “They said they can’t wait ‘til the next event. And that was my goal. I wanted them to have fun, and enjoy a positive vibe…it was almost a miracle—everything fell into place.” Padilla, who also speaks to kids in schools and played college baseball, enjoyed last year’s event and supports Duffy. “Chris does a good job of putting everything together…I told him, sign me up for the next ten years.”
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Photos taken by Mellissa Thomas except where otherwise stated.
About the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor and Publisher Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.
She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material, and as a manuscript editor. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.
She has published four books, all available on Amazon.com. Her new provocative poetry collection, Crooked Beauty: Words on Our Imperfect Life, will be available January 27, 2015.
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