In late November, minor league baseball player Vance Albitz read an article that would change lives.
And though he does not remember the name of the publication, he remembers the story triggering something inside of him to take action.
“They asked a soldier what he wanted people from back home to send him because they weren’t really sure what to send. So this one guy’s response was he wanted two gloves and a baseball because he and another soldier wanted to play catch with one another,” Albitz said.
“I read that and something kind of clicked for me. I figured I had a ton of connections from teammates that had gloves sitting around and I had five or six basically being idle in my closet.”
Albitz felt like he was the guy who had the time and connections to organize it all in his offseason from baseball.
That’s when it clicked and Gloves 4 Troops was born.
Albitz founded Gloves 4 Troops, a volunteer organization that is not classified as a non-profit organization, which ships over baseball gloves to soldiers.
He initially started with the goal of providing one glove to one soldier, but what began as something small became bigger than he could ever imagine.
Albitz had no connections with anyone in the military but research led him to a website called Anysoldier.com, which connected him with soldiers overseas in need of items. The website currently features more than 1,000 current addresses for soldiers in need.
Albitz began with one address at a time. But his mission quickly grew. So he hooked up with Veterans United, a company in Columbia, Mo., which has a larger infrastructure already in place to quickly connect with veterans overseas.
Veterans United put Albitz in touch with one of the main guys, whom is referred to as Sergeant Major, in Afghanistan that deals with the mail, who can act as the middle man to where Albitz sends the gloves to.
Albitz, now 25 years old, was a two-time Athlete of the Year at South Torrance High School in 2005-’06 and played shortstop at UC San Diego. He is currently in the St. Louis Cardinals organization and spent time with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds last season.
He runs this operation out of his parents’ house in Torrance. He allows donors the option of sending a personal note to the soldiers to accompany the gloves. Some of them take the opportunity to give instructions on different pitches and how to play the game 21.
Unlike the card game, this version of “21” consists of two participants playing catch, focusing on accuracy. The two players stand approximately 45 feet from each other and aim to throw at the head and chest region. For every throw made in that region, you score one or two points respectively. The first person to reach 21 points wins the game.
His goal is to get 1,000 gloves over to the troops by the start of spring training on Feb. 23. So far, his project has shipped 797 gloves to soldiers. And he has done it with a tremendous amount of support.
Along with $27,000 in donations to help maintain the operation, Albitz has received an amazing amount of support from the baseball and military communities.
“The variety of people has just been amazing,” Albitz said. “Anyone you can think of in the baseball community. Professional baseball players, Josh Beckett, scouts, managers, hitting coaches in the minors, people that work at the ticket office, the entire Cardinal organization has been huge.
“The team I play with, the city of St. Louis has been unbelievable, Virginia Tech baseball, Santa Clara baseball, universities, UC San Diego, you name it. Rawlings has been unbelievable and sent 50 brand new gloves to me. They’re helping me get gloves at wholesale, too … I’ve also got people saying here’s $100, here’s $200, however you can use it. Veterans United is purchasing almost 300 gloves for me.”
Albitz’s efforts are being appreciated from the troops, who have responded, thanking him for his contributions.
“I just wanted to say thank you very much for them and trust me they will be used, I left my glove at home and was going to get it sent over and now I don’t have to so thanks. I love the game of baseball and my dream was to play pro ball but that didn’t work out but I still play in leagues back home if I can. I think what you are doing is awesome and it really helps us soldiers feel a little like we’re back home when we get stuff like that,” said Specialist Dwight Gerhart in a letter sent to Albitz after receiving a glove.
Along with feedback from present soldiers, Albitz has heard from retired military who tell him they wish they had gloves when they were active, providing him further inspiration to continue this mission.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Albitz said.
Albitz says that with the immense amount of support and response from people he has gotten, he is on track to hit his goal. But what happens to the project once he starts spring training?
“At first it was just going to completely end it on Feb. 18,” Albitz said.
“I’m going to go ahead and continue it now once this season concludes. I’m just going to put it on hold and once this upcoming season ends in September, I’ll pick it back up. “
His goal from the start was to fulfill the dreams of one soldier and anyone else like him, but it certainly culminated into something bigger. Albitz has dreams of playing in the big leagues and now has found time to give back already before he gets there.
To learn more about Albitz’s Gloves 4 Troops please visit his website.