It might sound a little extreme, perhaps too idealistic, maybe even contrived or borrowed from a Hallmark Hall of Fame family TV classic, but it was a compelling story told last week to a huge crowd of 650 United Way of Bradley County Inc. supporters, contributors and volunteers at the festive kickoff luncheon for the highly respected nonprofit organization.
The turnout was so overwhelming — as was expected — that United Way leaders accepted an offer by Lee University to hold the jubilant gathering on the school’s gorgeous campus in Walker Arena.
This came for a reason ... actually, two reasons. One, United Way is entering an exciting new campaign with hopes of raising well beyond $2 million. And two, the keynote address was delivered by a former major league superstar whose face and name are well familiar to Atlanta Braves fans in the southeastern corner of Tennessee.
We speak of John Smoltz, a certain Hall of Famer who spent most of his thrilling career firing fastballs as either a starting pitcher or ace closer for what TV superstation WTBS billed as “America’s Team” of the grassy diamond. Smoltz, backed by a squad of diverse yet sometimes hidden talent in the field as well as a dream team of fellow starting pitchers like Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and company, led the Braves to a world championship, four World Series appearances and a slew of division crowns.
In spite of his success in professional sports, and the obvious wealth that comes with it, Smoltz came across to his listeners as an average guy, a good neighbor and maybe even an old friend returning to his hometown for a brief visit.
He also exuded belief in a cause, that being United Way.
Comparing United Way to baseball, Smoltz pointed to an important reminder — no one person, no single individual, no isolated star can do it all. Winning takes team effort and it requires sacrifice, sportsmanship and willingness to work in the trenches by all members of the group.
Here’s how he phrased it ...
“The game can’t start until I throw the ball, but I have to have those others to stand with me to win.”
And this ...
“We need people to do their part, so everyone can benefit, because when people don’t do their part it’s up to the one. You can do your part by getting involved in organizations and charities, and together make that difference.”
“What I am getting at is that all of you in this room right now have, through contributions and resources and volunteering, the opportunity to affect so many people ... people you may see or people you may never know ... but people in your community that you want to see made better.”
One must also set priorities, as did a young Smoltz in his boyhood. These were commitments made early that shaped the rest of his life ... especially as a blossoming sports celebrity who was given the opportunity to give back to those who had given to him in his playing years.
“I played baseball all the time [as a boy]. School was very important. I put God first, then family, school and then sports.”
It is a natural order of life, one that decades later allowed this retired superstar to stand before a massive Cleveland audience of United Way believers and to encourage them to work as a team for a common good and with shared vision.
We thank the likable Atlanta Braves hero for his visit.
We credit his good friend Richie Hughes for bringing him.
We wish Hughes and campaign co-chair Debbie Melton, and their respective teams of volunteers, the very best of luck in reaching for yet another field of dreams through United Way.
It isn’t about one. Not Hughes. Not Melton. Not United Way Chairman Cameron Fisher. And not President and CEO Matt Ryerson.
It is about everyone, and what a team of individuals can do when they believe in a better tomorrow for all who struggle today.