THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. - A community in Thurston County is pulling off a heartwarming rally after a youth baseball league’s equipment was stolen. Donations continue pouring in for the Nisqually Basin Youth Baseball league and the support even caught the attention of some Major League Baseball players.
A thief in a red pickup truck swiped thousands of dollars worth of equipment and was caught on camera driving away from Longmire Community Park in Yelm last month.
"When I saw that video and you think of all the things we overcame to get to this spot where the kids are playing baseball and to have their equipment, their pitching machines and generators, go missing at the tune of several thousand dollars," said league president Greg Ireland. "Just that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach."
Ireland said the most expensive items the truck hauled away were generators and pitching machines. As soon as the league posted the theft on social media, it went viral as community members stepped in. Ireland said one man bought new locks and a security box similar to the one stolen from the youth program.
"He had been born and raised in Yelm and he kind of took it personally that this baseball league that he played in when he was a boy had been robbed. And so he tracked the box down and purchased it back for us," said Ireland.
Monetary donations surpassed the league’s $2,500 dollar goal on GoFundMe. The Yelm Police Department also gave $1,000. Ireland said what was most surprising was support from Gerald Smiley, former pitcher of the Texas Rangers. After hearing about the theft, Smiley posted it on his fundraising website. It brought in $1,600, plus he paid a special visit.
"Gerald came down, he visited with the kids, he signed autographs for us on Saturday and pretty soon the kids were signing autographs for him," said Ireland.
The Seattle Mariners also pitched in donations to help the youth league recover.
"The money is nice, but what’s even better is the encouragement from the big league ball club that says youth sports are important to us and our community is important to us," said Ireland.
The president said not only have donors raised enough money to replace the equipment that was stolen, there is money left over for the league to buy more gear and expand its resources for local kids.
"I’m just grateful to live in a community that is like that. The community rallies together," said Ireland. "It’s pretty cool when something evil happens and the result is something good."
With all the good coming in from the unfortunate situation, Ireland said there is a lesson in all of it.
"What we’re going to do in the future is we’re going to issue each team a pitching machine and generator that we won’t have to store the equipment on the field anymore so it won’t be vulnerable to theft," said Ireland.
Yelm Police Department said the stolen items, suspect and suspect vehicle have not been located. The investigation is ongoing.
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