Matt Stillwell Aims to Inspire Kids on Badges for Baseball Tour
Matt Stillwell grew up playing baseball and admiring players and coaches like Cal Ripken, Sr. When the singer learned about the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation's Badges for Baseball program, which aims to build character and teach life lessons to at-risk youth by partnering local law enforcement with baseball clinics, he needed no convincing to get involved.
Stillwell was first introduced to the foundation through one of his music sponsors, Mark Butler, CEO of Ollie's Bargain Outlet. Butler invited him to play a show for the foundation, where he met Cal Ripken, Jr., who bonded with Stillwell over his recent single "Hey Dad." The poignant ballad has Stillwell looking back nostalgically on the time he spent with his father before he passed away.
"This foundation is about his dad," Stillwell tells Taste of Country. "He was very close to his dad, no different than how I was close to my dad. The music actually brought us together in that sense. The more I found out about the Badges program, I felt like I could connect some dots in my world and help grow the program."
The foundation kicked off its 12th year in Los Angeles in April, where 400 kids and 1,000 family members spent time at Dodger Stadium. Stillwell performed and invited some kids onto his bus to show them what his day to day life is like and where he and his band sleep.
"To see the number of kids and their enthusiasm to be there, I think the mere fact that the foundation is giving them an opportunity is amazing because they don't get that. I wanted to show [the kids] someone that's living their dream. I tend to talk about that quite a bit. I was very fortunate that I had two dreams and I've been able to do both of them," he explains of his love of music and baseball. "I try to preach to make sure that they feel like they can dream and show them what we're doing."
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Following their trip to Los Angeles Badges for Baseball went to St. Louis, where they partnered with the Cardinals and visited a local Boys and Girls Club. On July 17 and 18 they'll travel to Minnesota for an event with the Minnesota Twins, where Stillwell will sing the National Anthem and spend time with local children and police officers before they head to a baseball game.
Stillwell marvels at some of his experiences with the children and law enforcement throughout the tour, explaining how the cops often serve as mentors and coaches to the kids throughout the two-day visit. It's often much more than simply playing baseball, but showing the children that other people care about them.
"[Badges for Baseball] is doing it in a cool way that both parties can relax and have fun and hopefully bridge the gap of what we see in the news every day," Stillwell says.
The experience is a full circle moment for Stillwell, who played baseball through college but decided to chase music instead of a major league career.
"Getting out on a major league field, for me, is no different than the kids. To be out on the field now in the capacity mainly of doing the check presentation or singing the anthem, you're still around the players and you still get to feel the grass and the dirt. That side of it for me always brings back memories," he states.
Lucky for Stillwell, his time on the road with Badges for Baseball shows no signs of slowing down, as the foundation will be adding upcoming dates to their 2017 tour with plans to run through 2019.
For more on the Badges for Baseball Tour, visit ripkenfoundation.org.
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