MILWAUKEE -- These days, Brewers Charities president Lynn Sprangers finds herself with one eye on baseball's trade- and free-agent markets and another on the stock market. Both could impact her task for 2009, as Sprangers looks to build on what she called the most successful year ever for the team's community involvement. "Yes, it has been a tough year, economically speaking," Sprangers said. "It's tough for people to give, and our fans are feeling the squeeze despite the fact we exceeded 3 million fans for the first time.
"But that means we have to be very smart. Our community relations and our charitable efforts will have to undergo the same kind of analysis that every non-profit group is going through right now. We're all facing that same difficult road."
But Sprangers characterized 2008 as a good year. For the first time, Brewers Charities crossed the $1 million threshold in terms of direct community reinvestment and ticket donations in 2008. At the same time, the club's community relations department donated more than 17,000 items to nonprofit groups in Wisconsin for charity auctions and other events, in addition to orchestrating its ever-expanding S.C.O.R.E Program in Milwaukee schools.
The team's on-field success certainly helped, said Sprangers, and Katina Shaw, the team's director of community relations. Now the challenge is building on those community outreach efforts as many of the Brewers' fans start feeling the pinch of a tight economy.
"We'll have to count on our players once again being generous in 2009," Sprangers said. "When the economy is down, there is a greater need, and we hope that our players will be responsive to that."
In 2008, according to Sprangers, Brewers Charities infused $850,000 into the community, about half of which came directly from players. That total did not include the value of the more than 60,000 tickets distributed by the team as part of its "Brewers Buddies" program, or the 5,000 tickets purchased and then given away by reliever Eric Gagne on Sept. 25, when the Brewers were in the middle of their National League Wild Card push.
After signing a one-year, $10 million contract with the team last winter, Gagne told Sprangers he wanted to focus his efforts on children's health initiatives. That conversation led to a $50,000 donation to the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes against Childhood Cancer), the largest single donation in the charity's history.
Gagne was the team's leading contributor to community causes, donating about $200,000 in 2008. Sprangers said starters Jeff Suppan and Ben Sheets, center fielder Mike Cameron and infielder Bill Hall were also active in various initiatives, and each identified their own areas of interest. Suppan, who had a $100,000 per-season donation written into his four-year Brewers contract, has been particularly supportive of causes that benefit U.S. military families. Cameron expressed desire to help charities that benefit single-parent families. Hall has become a leading supporter of the Milwaukee chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which raises funds for breast cancer research.
"We meet with every player in Spring Training, every coach, and we try to identify what things they are interested in," Sprangers said. "The best programs grow out of something a player is passionate about."
Other highlights of the Brewers' community endeavors:
The S.C.O.R.E Program continued to grow. The acronym stands for school, community, opportunities, role models and excellence, and is anchored by a series of school visits involving every Brewers player and coach. Former Brewers slugger Larry Hisle takes the S.C.O.R.E. message to schools year-round.
The team is working with the Milwaukee County Parks Department to expand the Brewers' baseball field renovation program. Suppan and Gagne each donated $20,000 in 2008 to repair fields damaged by last summer's floods in southern Wisconsin.
A sellout field of 2,500 runners and walkers took part in the Sausage Race 5K at Miller Park, and next year's date -- July 25, 2009 -- has already been set.
The Brewers' summer block parties continued to grow, and will be back in 2009. The free events take place at various public parks around Milwaukee and include opportunities for autographs and photos with players.
Brewers Charities raised $53,000 for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation at the sold-out "Evening with Hank Aaron" in 2008. Aaron has already committed to a sixth annual event in 2009.
The team is in discussions with an area bank to expand the "Money Savvy Generation" program, first offered in 2007 with help from pitcher Chris Capuano, who graduated from Duke University with an economics degree. The program helps teach kids the value of spending, saving and donating money responsibly.
The club's community relations department handles donation requests from nonprofit groups. If your non-profit organization is in need of an item from the Brewers Community Relations Department, requests can be mailed to: Community Relations, Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, One Brewers Way, Milwaukee, WI, 53214.
Donations are limited to non-profit organizations only, and a copy of the organization's 501(c)(3) status must be presented for consideration. Requests must be made at least 45 days in advance.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.