Darius Williams hands over his hard saved cash and piggybank to Oak Hill Baseball Commissioner Jeff Hodges to help rebuild the baseball diamonds where he plays ball with his teammates. – photo by Travis Atkins
by Travis Atkins
He may not have been the biggest donor—standing less than five feet tall—but Darius Williams definitely stood out at ESPN Austin’s all day live fundraising broadcast from the Oak Hill Youth Sports Association (OHYSA) baseball fields on Friday, November 1st.
Williams, who’s in the Coach Pitch division (seven and eight year-olds) and wants to be a Major League Baseball player when he grows up, handed over a plastic bag filled with cash and his Crayola Crayon piggy bank to Oak Hill Baseball Commissioner Jeff Hodges. His money was part of an estimated $35,000 raised on the day, according to the station.
From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the station—known as 104.9 The Horn—featured their normal lineup of shows as people came by to donate cash and old metals, electronics and batteries for the cause. Rudy’s Barbeque, Golden Chick and Austin Pizza Garden donated food.
“After the flood two weeks ago, we had all sorts of people reaching out to us to help in any way they could,” Hodges said. “One of them was the radio station. They heard about our predicament and wanted to help.”
Under the oak trees by the stands of the PONY field on a mild sunny day, the station set up shop as more and more people dropped by as the day went on. Bucky Godbolt and Erin Hogan closed things out from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Hogan, the station’s programming director, got the ball rolling on the event.
“I saw the news story. My kids play little league baseball and we had been out here for a couple of games this summer with my son’s select team,” Hogan told the Gazette. “When I saw the footage, it just hit home. I had been around little league baseball, knowing the upkeep of these fields, and I know how hard that is and how expensive that can be.
“I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to get these fields back, so having the radio station as a tool, I reached out to (OHYSA President) Steven Bega and said, ‘what can we do?’ That led to this. Our goal is we work with them all winter and hopefully we’re back out here in the spring for opening day,” Hogan said.
The crowds started picking up when former University of Texas Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams joined the show. Kids lined up to get pictures and autographs with Williams, who also played baseball growing up and had a brief stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers, before playing in the NFL.
Godbolt was Williams’ running backs coach when he played at UT. The two have stayed friends over the years. Williams has even been out to the Oak Hill fields before to watch Godbolt’s son play.
“Little league was everything to me growing up,” Williams said. “It was the reason I woke up in the morning. I can remember that was the first love of my life. The friends I made and lessons I learned on the little league field are invaluable.”
The fields have been a staple of Oak Hill since 1967. Many on hand wanted to stress that the cause goes beyond repairing damage to baseball fields—it’s also about re-instating a safe haven for youths to learn life lessons, develop friendships and make memories.
“When my son was playing on the Mustang field, he had two strikes on him and had not looked good,” Hodges said. “I remember I called a timeout and talked to him, and on the next pitch, he hit a home run into the oak trees. After the game, some of the other dads on the team said ‘Jeff, whatever you said to Josh, tell that to my kid.’”
The backdrop and shade of oak tree groves and Williamson Creek winding through are part of the charm of the fields, but the people involved are what set Oak Hill apart, according to Hodges.
“I think what makes the Oak Hill fields unique to other fields is the amount of parental volunteerism—from coaches, to field work to concession stands,” Hodges said. “Nobody gets paid except for the umpires, and a lot of our umpires are kids. The other thing is, we’ve been here since 1967; it’s an institution in this part of Austin.”
Last Sunday, a gala and silent auction was hosted by Eleven Plates and Wine; a restaurant in Davenport Village. Dozens of items were up for bid including an autographed Lance Berkman bat (he grew up playing ball at the Oak Hill fields and later became a star player with the Astros), all-leather home theater chairs and many gift cards from local businesses. The auction, along with the $50 dinner tickets, raised around $20,000 total.
According to President Stephen Bega, all in all, the league is halfway to their goal of $100,000. For the latest on fundraising efforts, see the OHYSA website, http://www.ohysa.com/, or its Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/rebuildoakhill.
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