The following column appears in the April 20 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Here's a scoop for you. The Diamondbacks are flagrantly violating MLB rules. They're a pro team, and yet they're giving out full-ride scholarships. Been doing it for two years now!
Not to their players. To their fans.
It's an idea D-backs CEO Derrick Hall came up with at one game when a season-ticket holder who'd lost everything, even her car, introduced herself. She told him a fan in her section had bought her two season tickets for the rest of the year, even picked her up every game and took her home. And Hall thought, "Why don't we do this for our fans?" So he asked fans to send in applications for scholarships. Soon, his e-mail in-box was swamped.
My 13-year-old nephew is a huge fan. He is a really good kid but gets bullied for his need of dental work and lack of "designer" clothes. Baseball is his outlet. No one can see him underneath that catcher mask. His family has always struggled, and recently his father got laid off. He'd love to go to a game. -- Michelle
Michelle's nephew, who preferred not to be named, didn't get a ticket to just a single game. He's going to all 81, along with his parents, brother and sister.
"He went crazy," says his dad, an unemployed electrician. "He kept yelling, 'Are you kidding me!?!' And he put the letter from the D-backs up on his wall. He's such a good kid."
Next question: Anybody know a bighearted orthodontist?
I'm a single mom of two amazing little boys. For the past two years [we've] been struggling to pick up the pieces after my [husband and I split abruptly]. We lost our house, our car and had to sell mostly everything we owned. I do not make enough to make ends meet, and my ex-husband is behind in child support by $20,000. [Editor's note: Daniel Lombardi's wages are now being used to pay down that debt.] I would really love to take my boys to the games and give them some enjoyment. -- Tami Lombardi
Derrick Hall called to tell Ms. Lombardi that she was getting not only three season tickets but free parking, $400 in food vouchers and spots for her boys in a Diamondbacks players' clinic. Will that do?
"It was so awesome," she gushes. "We never miss a game on TV. Now we get to go!"
Even better: Her ex is a huge D-backs fan. Choke on it, dude.
All told, the D-backs put 18 families on scholarship -- 41 season tickets worth nearly $100,000 -- and every one of their stories would make your knees give. There was the daughter whose softball-playing mom broke her leg sliding into second, couldn't work and is now losing her house. There was Beth Godfrey, who was fighting leukemia. She won tickets but died soon afterward. Now those tickets are being donated in her name to charity.
One mom nominated her firefighter son, Breezy Morago, who broke his leg playing football, then rebroke it when a Jeep hit him while he was riding his bike, then burned it fighting a fire. Oh, and he lost everything when his own house burned. He gets a pair of tickets. Maybe he'll be safe at the ballpark.
My favorite, though, might be this one:
I couldn't raise my three children without my young brother. He drives my son to all of his baseball games, picks up my sick kids, takes them to movies, helps with homework, always lends a hand. What 20-year-old single guy does this and is still a full-time student and holds down two jobs? My brother Eric! Ever since he was little, he has had season tickets on his Christmas list. Year after year it goes unanswered. This year I ask you to consider my sweet brother Eric, the Greatest Uncle. -- Carol Stuart
Like nearly every winner, the Greatest Uncle, Eric Robles, didn't know what his sister had done. When he found out he won, "It was five minutes before it hit me: I have season tickets!" Robles says.
And in a what-should-I-Twitter-about-myself-now? world, why would a young guy be so selfless? "Well, I know what it's like when your parents divorce. It can be hard. Moving. Splitting up from their dad. I wanted to make sure nothing happened to the kids."
He spends most days three feet off the ground now. In fact, on the season schedule, he has circled in red the games he's going to.
A co-worker was looking at it and finally said, "Eric, every game is circled."
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