The I-70 Series between the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals always carries a little extra meaning to residents of the state of Missouri. However, this time around the significance is the highest it's been since the 1985 World Series, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the standings or results on the field.
It's because the two in-state rivals have come together to launch the "Teams Unite for Joplin" initiative, a fundraising benefit to help raise money and awareness for Joplin, Mo., residents as they attempt to recover and rebuild from the deadly tornado that ripped through their community on May 22.
Raffles and live auctions went on all weekend with several unique "Once-In-A-Lifetime" experiences up for bid. Among them: the opportunity to play assistant general manager for a Cardinals game, a private dinner with Lou Brock, and a pitching lesson with Kyle McClellan(notes).
The bidding for each item began at $2,500 to honor Tony La Russa winning his 2,500th game on Friday night.
Game-used lineup cards, signed baseballs, hats, jerseys and other memorabilia were auctioned off online. Replicas of the commemorative patches worn by both teams all weekend will also be available online for $10, or at the team stores at both Busch Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. All of those proceeds will also be going to the Joplin relief efforts.
But it's not just the financial aid that has made this effort special. It's the way both teams have reached out directly to Joplin High School student-athletes, who in some cases lost both their home and their school.
Prior to Friday's game, two members of the Joplin softball team whose homes were destroyed threw out ceremonial first pitches. Mikaila Craig, a Royals fan, threw her pitch to outfielder Jeff Francoeur(notes). Danielle Campbell, a Cardinals fan, tossed hers to Matt Holliday(notes). Later on both girls were invited into the Cardinals broadcast booth.
On Saturday, Royals and Cardinals players each wore Joplin baseball caps during batting practice. Then prior to the game, nine players from Joplin's baseball team took the field and greeted Cardinals' starters at each position to exchange caps and receive a signed baseball.
That process was repeated with nine different Joplin players meeting Royals' starters in the bottom of the first inning.
Francoeur was again among those having the opportunity to interact directly with the students, and he spoke to the Joplin Globe about what the weekend means to him.
"It hits close to home," Kansas City Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "You go through the major leagues, I guarantee you there are over 200 people who have played baseball in Joplin with the USA Tournament of Stars. So many of us have fond memories of that town, it's hard to see part of it no longer exists." [...]
"The Home Depot ... to see everything gone, it's surreal," Francoeur said. "I think it's such a good thing what we're doing here this weekend because all the (national) TV cameras are gone now and it's like people forget. But for a town like Joplin, you don't forget. It's such a devastating thing and a thing that you can't believe your eyes when you see it."
Living in the Midwest and having family in Missouri, those images certainly hit home with me as well. I'll be happy to do my part to make sure the victims aren't soon forgotten. I encourage you to do the same. In fact, if you'd like information on how you can make a donation, visit Cardinals.com/Joplin or Royals.com/Joplin.