Beginning a Summer Tradition

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As you drive by Sonny Lawson Park near downtown Denver you might not be surprised to see a ball game in progress. But you might be surprised who's playing in the game every Tuesday morning this summer. CPR's Pat Mack reports.

[CPR Photo: Pat Mack; Schmidty Schmidt at bat.]

Here's a transcript of Pat Mack's report:

Reporter Pat Mack: Joe Carabello says his crazy idea came to him when he was driving by Sonny Lawson Park last summer.

Joe Carabello - The ballfield was empty, around it was a ring of field encampments of homeless. I thought there was too much irony, and we ought to put these two things together.

Reporter: So Carabello paid to rent the field and invited the homeless to play ball..

Carabello: (The ding of bat hitting softball) They’re you go!

Reporter: Carabello is a commercial real estate broker but here he serves as the cheerleader and manager for both teams. He plays ball in the Colorado Senior Softball Association and players in that league donated gloves, bats and softballs. He used some of the balls to spread word about the games, writing the day, time and location on them and handing them out to any homeless person he found. He also let people know through churches and neighborhood groups. About 10 to 20 homeless players show up each week.

Players on the field: Get loose with it! Get Jiggy.

Reporter: Of all the players who are homeless, one stands out for his constant chatter.

Carabello: You’ll hear him for the next hour and 15 minutes. He’s a character.

Reporter: Carabello is referring to a player who goes by the name Schmitty Schmidt. The 31-year-old played baseball, softball and football as a kid in Colorado Springs, and he’s still in good shape. He says the games give him a chance to escape his reality.

Schmitty Schmidt: This is freedom. You’re young again. You have something to believe in, something to do today. I like it.

Player on the field: (Ding of bat hitting ball) Yes, that’s who you hit it to.

Reporter: In addition to the homeless, the players include volunteers like Carabello’s brother, Tim, and son, Zeb, as well as some staff from a nearby agency that helps the homeless. A few people who live in the neighborhood - like Erica Gaston - also decided to play ball.

Erica Gaston: I was leaving the house on my way to library, looked like they were having fun, so I thought I would spend some time with my neighbors.

Reporter: About a dozen people watch from the bleachers. A few have heard about the games and show up to cheer, donate money and share baked goods. The stands also include a few homeless people, like Russell Chambers.

Russell Chambers: Oh, this is fantastic. You’re bringing in a lot of people from different backgrounds around here. Some homeless people, some people that want to volunteer, members of the community. This is fantastic. This is what this is supposed to be about anyway. Just a gathering of different parts of the community.

Reporter: Before the game, Carabello handed Chambers a bag of clothes because of a conversation they had a week earlier.

Carabello: This is a gentlemen who made a really poignant comment to me. I said, 'Russell, why aren’t you playing today?' And he said, 'These are only clean clothes I have, and I have an appointment later today.' So he sat out. He was looking for a daytime job I think. I just made a mental note we had to beef up his wardrobe a little bit.

Reporter: Chambers is wearing a ball cap that covers his mostly gray hair but he’s still not in the lineup. He’s resting from hauling his belongings on his back.

Chambers: I’m a little dinged up from the backpack I’ve been carrying. My left shoulder is kinda nagging me a little bit.

Player on the field: You better get back on base dude!

Reporter: Chambers and the other fans watch as a few good plays are made. But errors outnumber hits.

Carabello: We’re going to set back baseball 50 years.

Reporter: As the game unfolds, it becomes harder to tell the homeless from those who aren’t. Maybe that’s the point. For at least a few innings every week.