Wednesday, November 9, 2011

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

This isn’t going to be another article about Trumbo, Bourjos, Conger, Chatwood and Walden. The baseball season is over. The holidays are almost upon us. It’s time to think of more than what happened on field in 2011 or what might happen in 2012.

This article is, however, going to be about kids—nearly 20,000 kids who attended the Gift of History program held at Angels Stadium. Billed as the largest history lesson ever (as confirmed by a Guinness World Records representative), most of Orange County’s 3rd graders were treated to a fun and entertaining morning dedicated to the unique history of the County.

As an Angels fan, I take pride knowing that the team I root for is constantly acting as a positive force within the community. It has always been that way. In a time when the reputations of many corporations are coming under fire, knowing that the team I’m passionate about is dedicated to being a good corporate partner makes me feel that much better about supporting the team.

When I asked Tim Mead, the Angels’ Vice President of Communications, about the Angels’ dedication to the community, he said “Well I think it has always been there and it continues to be enhanced. Mr. Autry was one of the first philanthropic people when you look back at his history across the country. It was very important to him when all of us started here. Involvement in the community was part of our responsibility—to go out to speak, to take care of people. Disney enhanced that. When you look at everything that Disney does on a grand scale, there’s no comparison. And then under Arte’s ownership, he’s continued that on an individual basis. We’ve really expanded our baseball foundation, our community relations endeavors . . . We take our community responsibility very seriously.”

Dennis Kuhl, the Angels Chairman, who was just beaming as he stared out at the kids cheering away to Mickey Mouse and Jose Mota, said “We sometimes focus or we hear too much about the bad kids. We don’t focus enough on the good kids and making a difference in their lives and giving them an opportunity. Today, there is a possibility that a kid comes here, he sees this, and says ‘you know what? I’m going to make the choice to turn my life around and make sure I do good and I appreciate this.’

As I spoke with teachers (without whom this event could not have been possible—imagine trying to take 30 or more 7 and 8 year olds on a bus to Angels Stadium, dealing with all the issues such as bathroom trips, seating arrangements, lost children, locating buses in a parking lot, etc.), they explained the value of an event like this. They said that for most students, history is difficult to understand because they cannot always see it or relate to it. Over the course of the school year, the 3rd grade teachers will refer back to this event to make the history lessons about Orange County more “alive.” They will use the facts in the book “Nothing Rhymes with Orange” that every student in attendance received and images from the Gift of History event to remind the students of what they saw. The teachers explained that it was the passion and energy from this event that will make their classroom lessons more meaningful.

It’s also that level of passion that drives Arte Moreno to support local endeavors. For example, last Saturday, the Angels opened up the stadium for the Challenger Little League Classic, allowing 800 special needs children to play baseball on the Major League field. In the coming months, the Angels will host several holiday toy drives and events to support families in the community. Arte Moreno is committed to the community long-term. As Dennis Kuhl explained, “The thing with Arte is that he gives me the opportunity to do this and encourages this. There is no owner that I know of that cares about kids more than Arte . . . he is the force behind this . . . The passion starts at the top and goes right down, and that is the culture we want.”

Since the Angels announced the signing of Jerry Dipoto as the new General Manager, I have heard members of the front office talk about the new culture that he brought with him. However, there is one area of the organization’s culture that I never want to see changed—I never want to see them change their desire to be a good civic neighbor. All of Orange County benefits by having them as a part of our community.

As the event closed out, Dennis Kuhl told me one last thing. “If it works for one kid, it is worth every effort we put into this.” I couldn’t agree more. The Gift of History event will be an annual event that all Orange County 3rd graders can look forward to attending. With the strong support of the Angels, Disney, and many other local businesses, it will be a great gift to kids everywhere in the County. Who knows, maybe one of them will grow up to play for the Angels.

P.S. All 3rd graders have a chance to win one of several prizes by logging onto and submitting an essay of 100 words or less answering the question “What Does Orange County History Means to Me?” Teachers, the grand prize in the contest is a $500 Toys R Us Shopping Spree for the student and a $200 Visa Gift Card for you!
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