Dreaming big in Baja
By Don Cameron
Ray Thomas lives by a simple mantra: "A bat and ball are basic human rights."
Former ump Ray Thomas takes your gear donations and delivers for the kids of Mexico
Story by Don Cameron
Ray Thomas lives by a simple mantra: “A bat and ball are basic human rights.” But not everyone can hop online and order the newest composite bat models or get mom and dad to pony up for the latest high-tech gear.
In Thomas’ world, donated sport- ing goods are the key ingredients in his recipe for bringing recreational human rights to the kids of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. A Pittsburgh native and longtime softball and baseball umpire in California, Thomas began aiding Baja sports programs in 1989. He moved to the coastal capital of La Paz in 1989 and has assumed a leadership role in his adopted region.
“We have been real successful with arranging used equipment drives with schools in the U.S.,” Thomas says. “We have 3,000 kids in the sports programs and I always need softball, baseball and soccer stuff to keep us going. We have a 30-team men’s softball program and a girls’ starter league, and the new mayor wants me to head up an adult slowpitch coed league here in La Paz.”
The Youth Education Sport foundation in the U.S. and Ray Thomas Foundation in Mexico were initially established in 1989 by a group of American softball umpires who wanted to share their passion for sports with Baja’schildren.Thegroupwasmetwith overwhelming support as people of all ages and backgrounds from the U.S. and Mexico joined forces to provide sports programs and equipment to deserving children. After 22 years of work in communities throughout Baja, the foundation now includes school breakfast programs, community graffiti clean-ups and a special-needs facility. The foundation has three kitchens that feed breakfast to 300 kids daily. Charity events dot Thomas’ calendar, including the recent Champagne Jam in Cabo that raised almost $20,000.
How can members of the U.S. soft- ball community lend a hand? Simple. Dig through that closet. Scour the hidden corners of your garage. Empty your equipment bag. The foundation can make great use of your used mitts, bats, balls, footwear and other softball equipment. Baseball gear is also in high demand to support the blossom- ing Little League baseball programs in Baja Sur.
“The items we need are in the homes, not being used,” Thomas says. “We did a 600-kid school in Sacramento and collected 11 pallets in three days. Another huge item is stuffed animals -- they are like gold here. From that one school in Sacramento we collected 1,700!”
Thomas gets joy from improving kids’ quality of life and seeing the growth of recreational programs. He takes pleasure, too, from knowing he has had a positive impact. “Once, I was downtown and a man came up to me who is on a team in our softball league,” Thomas says, “He told me I gave him a signed softball when he was attending one of his dad’s games when he was 6 years old. He has been playing in the men’s league for four years and is now 22 years old, and he has kept it all these years.”
The foundation can cover shipping costs for most donations. Thomas and staffers frequently visit schools and communities in the U.S. to supervise donation drives. For more information and details on how to donate sporting goods, or make a monetary or time donation, go to raythomasfoundation.org or e-mail Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.This article is in PDF format. Click here to view. (Requires free Acrobat Viewer)