Gordon, Little Leaguers unite for breast cancer
Diamond Dawgs film public service announcement with bopper
KANSAS CITY -- Dealing with the death of a loved one is tough at any age. For an 11-year-old, it could be world-shattering.
So when Skye Harnly's mother, Tracy, died of breast cancer in February, he and his Little League teammates did something commendable of any group of people, let alone a team of 11-year-old baseball players: they decided to raise awareness.
The Nebraska Diamond Dawgs 11U team started by wearing pink jerseys this season, and on Sunday, their campaign against cancer continued with the filming of a public service announcement with Royals outfielder Alex Gordon.
The Diamond Dawgs' "Playing for Pink" campaign includes not only pink jerseys, but a fund-raising goal. The team is raising money for a trip next summer to play in the Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament, with half of the funds going to the American Cancer Society.
"They are getting a message out, every day when they go out and wear those jerseys, it's putting the word out there," said Gordon, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. "I guarantee once someone sees them, they're like, 'Why are they wearing the pink jerseys? Why does it have that name on the back?' It's really inspiring."
Gordon and his wife, Jamie, found out about the Diamond Dawgs' cause through friend Tracie Hrnicek and her husband, who have a son, Alex, on the team. Initially, the request was for Gordon to sign a few items for an auction. A little more talking, and now the Gordons are putting on a Playing for Pink Casino Night on November 19.
"Alex and I were so compelled to get involved, because we were so blown away by what they were doing," Jamie Gordon said. "We thought, if 12-year-old boys are doing this, what can we do to help and make this thing even bigger and more special for them?"
So with those plans in place, the Diamond Dawgs were at Kauffman Stadium bright and early Sunday morning to shoot their PSA with Alex Gordon. The boys also got to roam the outfield wall, watch batting practice and stay for the game -- the group's bright pink tops easily visible in the stands along the left-field line. The spot, which will run on the video board prior to the Royals' remaining home games and during some Royals broadcasts, is promoting the casino night.
It also gave Gordon a chance to meet the boys he's been supporting, as he joked around with them, signed hats and jerseys, and took pictures.
"We've been planning this for a couple months now," he said. "My wife's really the person that gets to see them, put the name with the face and everything. It's great to see them finally, especially in their jerseys and everything."
The boys were clad in their signature pink tops, which instead of having names on the back, feature words chosen by the players to signify what the fight against cancer means to them. Harnly's reads "Attitude." Donovan "Butch" Speer, who lost his mother to cancer, as well, has the word "Fight" above his number 11.
Wearing pink jerseys wasn't as big of a sacrifice as you might think for the guys.
"Just because of the color, pink's the color for breast cancer, we were cool with it, because Skye's mom was a big part of the team," Speer said.
Perry Howell, one of the Diamond Dawgs coaches, said initially they dyed old jerseys pink, until some team moms stepped in and outfitted the team with their current uniforms.
Hrnicek, who has played a big part in helping the boys organize their campaign, remembers Harnly telling his teammates about his mom's death and answering questions like "an old soul." She said she's constantly inspired by the boys.
"For me, I've always wanted my children to look up to me as a role model," she said. "It's not very many parents that get to say that they are looking to their kids, because my kid is now my role model. All 12 of these boys are my role model, because of their big hearts, their compassion, their love, their generosity, their dedication, determination, all of that. It's just inspiring."
The team, whose players have been on the same squad for years, had always been active in Relay for Life, a national fundraiser run by the American Cancer Society. But after the Diamond Dawgs lost a second mother to cancer, they decided to become more active.
"Then it was, we're going to have to do something more, something more important," Howell said. "Really, the kids collectively, they're the driving force behind this. The parents are supportive and they're working hard, they've got to get the kids here and there. But without question, the boys are stepping up and embracing this at a level that I haven't seen."
Harnly himself was impressive in answering questions during a video interview and said the team is 100 percent behind the cause, and was grateful to the Gordons and Royals.
"It's really important to all of us. So we're pretty happy that we're doing it," he said. "And we're getting a good review."
The Diamond Dawgs are from Gordon's hometown of Lincoln, Neb., which helped him connect with the team. Local coverage of team's mission has earned them praise and donations, even from rival teams. The Dawgs are active on Facebook and their website, Playing for Pink.
The Gordons and Diamond Dawgs parents have met regularly to plan the events and have gotten publicity help from Gordon's agency. Hrnicek said she frequently gets calls from people wishing to donate auction items -- everything from a homemade quilt to a Trace Adkins guitar.
Gordon agreed to provide some auction items, as well as campaign for them through Crowdrise . Items for auction from Gordon include an autographed lineup card, autographed batting gloves , autographed cleats , and an autographed bat.
Howell said fundraising has been going well for the team. It was a dream of Tracy Harnly to see the Dawgs play in the 2012 Cooperstown tournament, and the entry fee for the players and coaches is almost $11,000. All together the trip will end up costing just under $70,000.
Howell and Hrnicek both praised the boys for the maturity and determination they've shown to try and reach not only that goal, but to do something for people affected by cancer, as well.
And while everyone is proud of how the boys have turned something tragic into something hopeful, the two mothers are still loved and missed.
"The community has really supported us well in this. I can't thank everybody enough," Howell said. "My canned answer to the whole thing is I'd much rather have the two moms in the stands, telling coach to wake up or whatever [heckling] you hear. They were good people and great supporters of the team."
Adam Holt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.