Field of Dreams
In his free time, Jeremy Flug ’83 helps dreams come true. Under his leadership, more than 3,000 children, affected by a range of disabilities, have “played ball” with their hometown heroes, and the number keeps growing.
As the founder of Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids, Flug has teamed up with thirteen major league baseball franchises (and counting) to bring star players such as Miguel Cabrera, Todd Helton, Zack Cozart, and Neil Walker to play baseball with the campers, who are ages six to seventeen.
Flug’s goal is embodied in his camp motto: “One Special Day. One Special Opportunity.” Each day, fifty children sport a MLB licensed jersey with their name emblazoned on the back, and participate in a range of drills for about three hours with at least five major league players. “The beauty of the program is its simplicity. It’s just baseball,” says Flug.
“Since starting this program, I have come to know the other side of baseball, the side that works within the community to improve the lives of those less fortunate,” says Flug, who majored in history and is on the Denison Board of Trustees. “Our program plays a small part in a very large effort.”
Flug’s interest was piqued when he participated in a Fantasy Camp with the Colorado Rockies in 2007.Surprised to discover that there were no baseball clinics geared to children with disabilities, he was inspired to level the playing field between major league baseball and children with special needs who love baseball.
“I never played baseball, but I did realize the influence that player interaction can have a huge impact on the life of a child,” said Flug, who played football while at Denison.
Starting with the basics, “I built the program by cold-calling teams,” Flug found that his message resonated with many MLB franchises that matched his enthusiasm. “The model is simple: all you need are the kids, a date, jerseys, a field and the players.”
Though Flug is busy running his company Gulftech International, Inc., he commits considerable time to the fantasy camp. “I feel tremendous joy when a child with severe challenges hits a ball and runs the bases,” said Flug.
But the camp is more than just a fun day for these children, many of whom have not had the opportunity to play organized sports.
It is clear that the camp helps to boost their confidence and improve their self-esteem. Some children even refuse to take off their jerseys, while others promise Flug that they will make their beds and improve in school.
Joe Knetzer ’85 and John Kenney ’82 have played a crucial role in the Fantasy Camp by serving as the designated contact for Major League baseball teams. “We work to ensure a seamlessly planned event. We bring enthusiasm, energy and presence to shower love, encouragement and our full attention on both the kids and their parents,” said Kenney, a senior vice president of Vistage International, Inc.
Knetzer added, “Jeremy is one of the most caring and giving people I know. He has the heart and passion for service.”
In 2014, the Baseball Fantasy Camp received approval for 501(C)(3) status as a private non-profit charity, which will help the program expand and collaborate with other nonprofit organizations centered around sports, such as the Miracle League, Challenger Baseball, and Special Olympics.
More good news is that recently Clint Hurdle, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, signed on as a member of the Fantasy Camp’s Board of Directors. And Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids is the only non-profit organization that co sponsors All Star Week with Major League baseball. (This is a big deal).
“The world is full of people who hope to serve, want to help and leave their legacy but for whatever reason, don’t,” said Kenney. “Jeremy is not one of those people. He saw the need and made it happen, providing both an amazing role-model for his children and to those lucky enough to be called his friend.”