ST. PETERSBURG — Bo Bichette came to help Saturday morning, and he brought some friends, including Blue Jays teammates George Springer, Jordan Romano and Santiago Espinal.
Bichette, who played at Lakewood High School, recently made a significant contribution to provide financial sponsorship for the Police Athletic League youth program at St. Petersburg’s Jackson Recreation Center at Wildwood Park.
And Saturday was the day to share the news, and the field, as about 60 boys and girls took part in a “Play Ball” experience put on by Major League Baseball as part of a program to encourage underserved youths to participate in baseball and softball.
Bichette wasn’t just the host. He also took the mound, pitching underhanded to kids, some of whom were taking their first swings, with Springer, the Jays’ star outfielder, doing the catching. For some of the youngest ones, who were shorter than the bat, Springer set the ball on a tee. The kids also participated in fielding and baserunning drills.
Bichette, who moved with his family to Tierra Verde as a high school sophomore, has been involved in several charitable projects in the area, working previously with PAL in after-school programs and clinic-type instruction.
When he heard the Wildwood program needed help, he made a donation (for an undisclosed amount) that will provide uniforms, equipment and gear, plus cover registration fees, coaching stipends and other costs for about 100 boys and girls ages 5-14.
They will be able to play for free in what will be known as St. Pete PAL x Wildwood Baseball Powered By Bo Bichette.
“This helps big time,” said Rosevelt “Bubba” Swinton, the 83-year-old who has helped organize the Wildwood program for nearly 60 years, and who lined the field for Saturday’s event. “We were overjoyed hearing about it.”
Having the players’ costs covered is a major boost to the program, said director Veronica “Toolie” Roberts.
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“In our community, kids are geared toward basketball and football,” Roberts said. “Now that we have the backing of Bo Bichette and his family, that will help us to serve more kids.
“We’re not asking for any fees. You don’t even have to have a bat or glove or anything; we provide everything for you. You just have to come out and play. ... We’re trying to introduce a lot of kids into baseball. Baseball almost faded out in the community, and we’re trying to bring it back. ... This means so much.”
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