Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bobby V Lends a Helping Hand to Japan

This story originally appeared in Baseball Reflections.

Bobby Valentine may have left Japan at the end of the 2009 baseball season, but it’s obvious that the former Chiba Lotte Marines manager’s heart is still with the country. The ESPN baseball analyst has been involved in relief and fundraising efforts to aid in the recovery of the decimated Tohoku region. His collaboration with AmeriCares, a non-profit based in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, began almost immediately after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11.

“Somebody in the office had the idea of calling Bobby because they knew he coached and was such a prominent figure over there,” says Curt Welling, AmeriCares president and CEO. “We’d never done anything with him. I said, ‘Well, you can call him, but I don’t think you’ll ever get him.’ And two hours later he was sitting in our office, and four days later we delivered 17 tons of medicine to Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai.”

The medicine, worth an estimated $600,000, was distributed to primary care clinics. “Bobby was critical to facilitating that contact,” says Welling, who says there is a chance he will accompany Bobby V to Japan later this year. “He’s such a remarkable guy,” Welling says of Valentine, “because he cares so much about this, and he’s so sensitive to the culture and the people [of Japan].”

Stamford on the Sound

In addition to partnering with AmeriCares, Bobby Valentine helped organize Stamford on the Sound, a wine tasting and silent auction with proceeds of an estimated $750,000 benefitting the Japanese American Association of New York, which will distribute the funds to NGOs in Japan as well as US tornado relief agencies. 

Wine tasting at Stamford on the Sound

The event took place on June 18 in Bobby V’s hometown, with actor Richard Gere, former Mets and Yankees pitcher David Cone, Alan Kalter (David Letterman’s announcer), and Emmy Award-winning reporter Armen Keteyian in attendance.

Bobby V and Richard Gere pose with Stamford dignitaries

While Valentine hasn’t been to Japan since the disaster, he has been in contact with many of his former players, including one who donated items for the silent auction. “So he’s in Japan, sending stuff to me over here to raise money that will be sent back to Japan,” says Bobby V with a laugh.
Other items up for bid in the silent auction were travel packages, personal training sessions, jewelry and accessories, and a one-on-one batting lesson from Bobby V himself at his baseball academy.

Bobby V’s Chiba Lotte Marines hat

Autographed David Cone jersey

Japanese players currently in MLB pitched in with auction items as well. Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome donated a signed baseball and bat, while Ichiro Suzuki came through with an autographed baseball, All-Star jersey, and two posters for the cause.

When the silent auction was over, Bobby V delighted the crowd with his skills as a live auctioneer. On the auction block was a priceless evening at Dodger Stadium with the legendary Tommy Lasorda: Tickets for four, dinner with Lasorda, a signed Dodger jacket and baseball, and a chance to meet Dodger manager Don Mattingly on the field before the game. Bobby V cut loose with the rapid-fire barrage of auctioneer speak, coaxing the bid higher and higher. The Dodger package eventually sold for $4,000.

Bobby V as an auctioneer

Bobby V’s current employer was a big presence at the event. The Disney/ABC Television Group donated “the ultimate swag basket” containing DVDs and other goodies for the show Castle. ESPN contributed tickets to a U2 concert at Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey and had an area set up to collect more donations while offering attendees a chance to win prizes.

ESPN offered attendees the chance to win prizes

Sake tasting at Stamford on the Sound

The night marked the debut of Bobby V’s own steak sauce, called V Plus, which is heavily influenced by Japanese flavors (the first ingredient on the label is soy sauce). Proceeds from the sale of the sauce go to benefit Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.

Bobby V’s steak sauce

Bobby V no longer manages a team in Japan, but he’s still a big part of the community.

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