Former Major League Baseball star Reggie Sanders hit one out the park both literally and figuratively Saturday at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.
The Myrtle Beach resident and his charity, the Reggie Sanders Foundation (RSF), teamed up with several celebrities and former athletes to put on the 2nd Annual Advantage Games and the Legends Never Fade celebrity softball game to benefit a cause that hits close to home.
Along with raising money and awareness to benefit kids and adults diagnosed with autism and austism-related disorders and their families, Sanders hit a home run during the game, which featured big names like National Baseball Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony La Russa as managers.
“These celebrities can change a culture and change a community. When you bring them together at large and see how much fun they’re having while working together for this cause is special,” said Sanders, whose brother, Dee, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. “They’re coming into our community and giving back, and it’s a really powerful thing.”
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Fanfare proved the point, as folks from all over formed a frenzy at the ballpark on a day that included several activities, including the 2nd Annual Advantage Games – 20 games and activities designed by Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists to help participants with autism and autism-related disorders work on their fine/gross motor skills, safety skills, living skills and team building – silent and live auctions, and of course the celebrity softball game and fireworks thereafter.
“That was a way to bridge Florence, Marion, Georgetown and Horry counties together in a way where we’re giving back to the families that are struggling with autism,” Sanders said. “I wanted to create games that would help support cognitive, sensory, mobility and team building and also give their families access to information for kids that can hold a job down as well. So it was an all-inclusive, one-stop shop and that’s how it all started.”
Sanders won a World Series title with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, compiled a .267 career batting average and hit 305 home runs in his storied 17-year career in baseball, but that was just a lead-up to what he says is the “most important” chapter of his life.
“It’s the most important chapter because I’m able to help people at large and also bring a community along with me that can support me with that,” he said. “So, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Since his retirement from baseball in 2007, Sanders has taken advantage of his celebrity status to help those with autism and their families, devoting his life to the cause.
“It’s all about the awareness. I wanted to use my celebrity and connections to bring these celebrities and athletes in, as well as bridge the communities together and come together in a way where we’re celebrating and we’re also trying to do something good,” Sanders said. “That’s what it’s about.”
And with such a personal stake in the cause, Sanders is always looking for those who support it.
So, when he reached out to the athletes and celebrities – most of whom are his close friends – who played in the Legends Never Fade softball game, they jumped at the chance to help.
“It’s unbelievable. I am so glad to be here supporting Reggie and his foundation, and to be playing with some great players and friends,” said former World Series champion Rafael Furcal, whose rise to the majors included a stint in which he starred for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. “This a great thing he’s doing here, who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?”
La Russa knew how much the cause meant to Sanders, whom he coached in St. Louis in 2004 and 2005, and couldn’t wait to lend a hand.
“It starts with Reggie. He’s a great teammate,” said La Russa, a three-time World Series champion manager. “When you play with somebody for several years – and he’s just as good of a person as he is a teammate – when you see something that he really supports and wants help for, you’re going to help him. That’s why we’re here.”
Several other celebrities were slated to take part in the event, including former MLB players Felipe Lopez, Orlando Hudson, Ray Durham, Marlon Anderson, Rick Ankiel, Russ Ortiz, Mookie Wilson and Alex Cintron; former NFL quarterback and Coastal Carolina alumnus Tyler Thigpen; Olympian and Coastal Carolina alumna Amber Campbell; and former NFL player and Clemson alumnus Ricky Sapp.
Although it was a one-day event, Sanders said RSF will always be there to help those in need.
“We are who we say we are. We put on first-class events and work with organizations that are first class. We also support families in rural areas that are struggling,” Sanders said. “Thirty years ago, the number of kids diagnosed was 1 in 10,000 and today it’s 1 in 68. The spectrum is still growing strongly, so I’ve made it a point to continue to create programs and partner with organizations that are with the same core and [will] work towards this cause.”