By Meredith Foster Ristic
Bulldog baseball will take the field at McCormick Field on Tuesday, May 13th, at 6 p.m. against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the annual Cure Kids Cancer game.
All of the money raised will go to the VS. Cancer Foundation and the Mission Foundation to fight childhood cancer.
“I think it really puts baseball in perspective, especially to play a game with so much meaning,” said assistant baseball coach Jeremy Plexico. “This game touched so many of the guys last year; it’s good to be a part of something where we’re giving back.”
The first Cure Kids Cancer game last year at McCormick Field was a successful one for the Bulldogs.
“Last year we raised around $12,000,” said Plexico. “This year our team goal is $10,000. We hope sell out McCormick as well as raise money through our restaurant partners Zaxby’s and Jersey Mike’s.”
Zaxby’s donated a portion of its sales on May 5th from 4-8 p.m. Jersey Mike’s will donate a portion of its sales to the event on Thursday, May 8th, from 4-9 p.m.
“Hopefully we can have a sellout crowd, so that we’re able to raise a lot of money for both organizations,” Plexico said. “It’s really nice to be able to be involved with a large organization like the VS. Cancer Foundation as well as a local one like the Mission Foundation.”
Last year the Bulldogs hosted a six-year-old cancer patient from Mission, Carter, who threw out the first pitch and hung out with the team during the game.
“At first he seemed really nervous,” said senior infielder Eli Miller. “But, as soon as he threw out the first pitch it seemed like he got happier and happier throughout the night. By the end of the night he was joking around with all of us.”
While the team worked hard to prepare for the game, the emotions they experienced throughout the night were unexpected.
“It’s an emotional experience that’s hard to prepare for,” Miller said. “You think you can get ready for what it feels like watching him throw out the first pitch, but it really just hits you when you’re there.”
The Bulldogs used the VS. Cancer game as an opportunity to connect with their community on a more significant issue.
“It puts a lot of things in perspective,” Miller said. “This game is about a lot more than just baseball.”
Even with the success they enjoyed in last year’s Vs. Cancer game, the Bulldogs are hoping to raise the bar this year.
“Matt Pellegrin (Director of Athletic Media Communications) is also putting together an inspirational video from the guys like we did last year,” Plexico said. “We want to do as much as we can to make this event successful.”
In addition to what the players do, there will be opportunities for the community to contribute as well.
“There will be multiple opportunities to donate throughout the game,” Plexico said. “Of course there will be the money from the ticket sales, but we will also have the players walking through the crowd to pass their hats and collect donations.”
The Bulldogs will also be auctioning off their jerseys from the game throughout the night, starting with a minimum bid of $50.
“Auctioning off our jerseys will be our big fundraiser of the night,” Miller said. “They will be customized just for the game. We’re excited because we haven’t seen them yet.”
Amidst all the preparation to provide as much financial support for these organizations as they can, the Bulldogs are also going to be providing support in a different way this year.
“On two separate days, we’ll be going to Mission to visit some of the cancer patients,” Miller said. “We’re really looking forward to everything even more this year, because now we have a better idea of what we’re looking for.”
The Bulldogs’ coaching staff can see the excitement in their players.
“They’ve been talking about it since early in the season. I actually think that some of them have been growing out their hair all year for this,” Plexico said.
After the game, members of the team will be shaving their heads to raise awareness.
“Last year, they told us about two months before, we Skyped with Chase Jones, the founder of the VS. Cancer Foundation, and we started getting ready from there,” said Elliot Criss, a red-shirt junior pitcher from Collegeville, Pa.
Jones, a former baseball player at UNC Chapel Hill, survived brain cancer and turned his personal battle into a foundation to fight kids’ cancer.
When they found out they’d be shaving their heads after the game, the team began to prepare.
“Some of the guys started growing their hair out for a more dramatic change. Coach Smith doesn’t usually like long hair, so that was interesting,” Criss said.
Most of the team enjoyed it more than they originally thought they would, Criss said.
“I was actually a little nervous because I’d never really had my hair that short before,” Criss said. “But, everyone did it, and we really enjoyed looking at each other with half-shaved heads as it was happening.”
Having experienced the first VS. Cancer game last year, the Bulldog returners are looking forward to the event.
“Everyone is really excited about the game,” Criss said. “We get to play in front of a big crowd, but we’re really looking forward to being able to give back to all of the people who come out and support us.”
In addition to the players shaving their heads, there will be members of the Carolina College of Hair and Design at the gate for any fans who want to shave their heads and get in free.
“Carolina College of Hair and Design came out and helped us last year,” Pleixco said. “They were great. They sent out 20 or 30 and they did a great job.”
At their only game at McCormick this year, the Bulldogs hope to draw members of the community to support the cause.
“Everyone is invited,” Plexico said. “We would like to have as many as we possibly can. The Vs. Cancer baseball games are turning into popular events so we’re hoping to have even more than last year.”
Bulldog baseball wants to invite local baseball teams to come out and support the cause.
“Last year we had some of the local teams come out and bring all of their guys, and we loved having them,” Plexico said.
The game will be televised locally by My40.
“We have a lot of local support from businesses and restaurants that we’re really grateful for,” Plexico said. “All of the support we get and the money we raise goes to a really good cause, and last year Mission actually showed us what they bought with the money and how the kids used it.”
With the money raised from last year’s VS, Cancer game, the Mission Foundation to fight childhood cancer purchased iPads for the kids to use.
“It was great to see the money put to good use, and for the kids to have something like that they can enjoy,” Plexico said.
"Having the opportunity to work with these two organizations and host a Vs cancer game was incredible for us, to be able to do something bigger than baseball, but it also had an impact on our team and brought them closer together," Plexico said.
“This game is something we’ve been looking forward to all year,” Miller said. “We get the chance to help people out and give back to the community in a way that we don’t usually get to.”