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Thursday, May 19, 2016 02:15 am

Reading, writing and baseball

Rotary’s local literacy campaign heads to Busch Stadium May 23 and 24

Rod Buffington, trip coordinator for Rotary Family Day at the Ball Park, is third from left. Pictured with him are Hector Luna, Richard Robinson and Fredbird.
PHOTO BY JIM HERREN PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Soon area baseball fans will head south for local Rotary clubs’ 14th annual literacy fundraiser baseball games in beautiful Busch Stadium. Springfield-based watercolor quilt artist Rod Buffington is coordinating the event again this year. Enthusiastically.

“Rotary Family Day at the Ball Park in support of children’s and adult literacy has been very, very successful,” says Buffington, whose lifetime goal is to sell enough tickets to fill the stadium once. “This year we’re at about 30,000 of the 41,000 seats in the stadium.” At an average sale of about 2,000 tickets a year, it won’t be long now, especially with the regulars on board.

Springfield information business owner Neal Miller has attended all but two of the annual games, usually with several friends. “It’s a great trip. I have taken family, friends, employees. We’ve done drawings for tickets to give to customers. I’ve sold tickets as a Rotarian. It’s fun to have people you know sitting near you. It turns into a big party. It’s a lot of fun!”

Cardinals fan? “By all means!” says Miller.

Therese and Tom Borgsmiller have gone to 10 of the Rotary fundraiser games and make it a family event each year. “The whole family goes, and we see our friends there too,” says Therese.

The Borgsmillers aren’t Rotarians, but started going out of their friendship for Buffington. “He does an incredible job promoting this throughout the year,” says Tom. “He works and volunteers more time on it than anyone probably knows.”

Cardinals fans? “BIG Cardinals fans!,” says Therese. “And that’s ‘big’ with a capital B-I-G!”

So far, ticket sales and contributions from Cardinals Care amount to $355,000 for literacy project grants across Rotary’s five participating districts. The 50 clubs in the Springfield-area district receive about 60 percent of the literacy grants each year, according to Buffington. “One of our successful grant projects has been the Real Men Read reading and book donation program at Ridgely School.”

Buffington took on this job with two friends in other Rotary districts in 2003 when he became district governor of this area zone and needed a service project focus. He had decided on literacy, wanted to make it something to do with baseball, and hoped it would have wide appeal. What better than the well-trod yet ever-green rivalry between the Cardinals and Cubs. So they set up a group sales event with the Cardinals organization and began to grow the program.

It’s been fun, but not predictable. “One year it was 108 degrees and the sun was right in our eyes. I turned around, looked up at our section,” recalls Buffington, “and no one was there.” He decided right then never again to buy a block of seats in that section for an afternoon game.

Heat isn’t the only challenge. “Another year it rained. One year there wasn’t one Cardinals-Cubs game we could attend, so we watched the Cardinals play the Los Angeles Dodgers. TV has rights to certain games, and can change Saturday and Sunday day games to night. And one time a player died the night before the game. The entire game was canceled and everyone received tickets for a makeup game in September.”

This year the group will enjoy evening baseball before the heat of the summer, under the lights, for just $38 per ticket. Seats for Monday’s 7 p.m. game are in the left field loge, sections 269-271. Seats for Tuesday’s 6 p.m. game are in the right field boxes, sections 128-135.

Be sure to get to the stadium early. Once the group sells 1,000 tickets, they’re entitled to select individuals to participate in special events, batting practice on the field, and the opening ceremony – including throwing the first pitch. “We have lots of fun doing that,” says Buffington.

So, Cardinals fan? “I’m actually a Cub fan,” says Buffington, who grew up in northern Illinois. But, adds the experienced communicator, “I have high praise today for the St. Louis Cardinals. They have, by far, the best administrative office structure of anybody in baseball. Absolutely number one. Anybody will tell you that.”

The tickets for this trip are now sold out. We need to remove purchase/contact information from the story.

DiAnne Crown is a frequent contributor to Illinois Times whose earliest memories of baseball are watching the Cardinals play and eating vanilla ice cream with the family at her grandmother’s house.


Three FAQs for first timers
• Everyone is welcome, whether you are a Rotary member or not.
• This isn’t a bus trip. Everyone drives separately and meets in the seats.
• And you must bring your ticket. Replacement tickets are not issued by the Cardinals or Rotary organizations. (They’ve tried!)

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