Phillies title gear a hit far from World Series
Rich Stearns works and lives just outside Seattle. He grew up in New York state. He lived in Philadelphia for 10 years. So he was torn as a fan watching the Yankees and Phillies in the just-completed World Series. He couldn't wait for someone - anyone - to lose. "I just want to make sure someone loses, so others can win," the president of World Vision said. The leader of the humanitarian group based in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way, was talking over the phone while on a train outside Philadelphia, hours before the Phillies lost Game 6 and the World Series to the New York Yankees late Wednesday night. Stearns and his organization view the Series and the Super Bowl, for which it also holds a licensed-merchandise agreement with the NFL, in a different way: bring on the losers! Each fall and winter for the last three years, World Vision has sent to the impoverished around the world thousands of team championship caps, jerseys and T-shirts produced before the World Series and Super Bowl and then rendered unusable for marketing in the United States when teams don't win the title. In the last few weeks, Stearns has had shipments sent to disaster-stricken Indonesia with 1,300 pieces of preprinted gear featuring the words "Los Angeles Angels, World Series champions," or bearing the logo of the Dodgers, the other loser in the league championship series last month. Now that the World Series has ended, seemingly unusable Phillies championship gear is being processed out of World Vision's distribution center in Pittsburgh - items bound for Zambia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Romania. World Vision tracks the delivery and dissemination to ensure the countries that need them most get the gear, along with food, health and sanitation supplies, tool kits for building shelters and other basic needs. "As hard as it is for us to believe, this might be the only piece of brand-new clothing these people have ever had in their lives," said Stearns, the organization's president since 1998. "In Indonesia, with the earthquakes they've been having, families have lost everything they own. They've lost their homes." Some children across the globe are wearing XXL Arizona Cardinals shirts right now. They were made before last season's Super Bowl, meant to be worn by mammoth linemen inside a victorious locker room - until the Pittsburgh Steelers won the NFL title. "They wear them as dresses," Karen Kartes, media relations director for World Vision United States, said with a laugh. The group wanted to get Phillies gear out to the many who are still needy in Indonesia, but the latest shipment had to leave Wednesday - hours before the Yankees won their 27th World Series. "Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and this is a tremendous opportunity for Major League Baseball to make an impact on the lives of those in need around the world," Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "We are pleased to work with World Vision, which brings 60 years of experience successfully assisting millions of people around the world." World Vision got into this game a few years ago. Kartes said the NFL grew tired of either watching all this unused apparel get destroyed, or of having to work with U.S. Border Patrol agents to stop counterfeit, non-licensed or unusable merchandise from losing teams in the Super Bowl from being sold in far-flung black markets or on eBay. The league and World Vision found a far more useful, and environmentally friendly, alternative. "You talk about a 'green' solution," Kartes said. Baseball joined by donating its gear soon after. Kartes said World Vision is in talks with the National Hockey League to establish the same program for merchandise produced before the Stanley Cup finals each spring. She said the NBA hasn't been approached, but that the organization would welcome a partnership with basketball, too. Since that league's championship series ends in the early summer, that would give World Vision a year-round supply of apparel. Back on that train outside Philadelphia, with World Vision shipments flying across the world, Stearns still sounded relieved the World Series was ending days after he had hoped. "Most people who receive these jerseys and T-shirts would not know who the Yankees and the Phillies are," he said. "They are just looking at these as new clothes."