On a warm summer evening in late July, two softball teams took to the field in North Strabane Park. One team wore navy, the other light gray. The level of experience on both teams varied. Each was stacked with a few big hitters, and a few great fielders—along with several players who hadn’t touched a bat or glove in years. But what some may have lacked in skill, they made up for in heart—as Range Resources employees took on the City Mission Sluggers in a game that ultimately led to a win neither team was expecting.
President and CEO of City Mission Dean Gartland has devoted decades to mission work and helping the homeless. He was on the field that night to cheer for both teams.
“Our residents loved being able to get out and participate in something like this. And for Range Resources to do this, it was a real demonstration of Range’s commitment to the community. This was a powerful event for our residents, they were ecstatic about participating. In fact, they’re already talking about next year and I had to remind them—hopefully you won’t be here next year!”
As Gartland explains it, the men and women who seek shelter and support at the City Mission are homeless. “Some have been referred to us from various drug and alcohol treatment centers, they may have no place to go upon completing treatment or it may be that their home life is just not conducive to continued recovery. Some have been staying with friends, jumping from place to place but now have no place to go. Others have literally been living on the streets, and eventually made a decision to come to us for help. They have fallen to the bottom of the ladder, and are starting all over again. But while their stories differ, what they all have in common when they get to the City Mission is a need for food, for shelter, for safety, and an opportunity to turn their lives around.”
Gartland says an event like the softball game becomes part of that opportunity. “When you have a company like Range Resources put together an event like this, it’s incredibly important. It shows our residents that they are cared about, by the community and by a respected local employer. Our residents are people who have often questioned—who even cares if I live or die, whether I make it or don’t? And something as simple as this softball game was a real demonstration to them that people do care. The employees of Range Resources care. They showed our residents that they do matter to the community.”
George is a resident at the Mission who says the game taught him something new about himself. “It meant a lot to me. I’m a recovering addict, and I didn’t know I could have fun being sober. But I really enjoyed the game, and it helped me realize that I truly can have fun without using a chemical.”
Brian also played for City Mission, and hopes the community can learn from his team. “There are a lot of preconceived notions about who a homeless person is. We wanted to show the team from Range Resources who we are and how we all come together to form an eclectic family. Because that’s what makes City Mission so special. We’re a family.”
Life at City Mission is intentionally structured. “We have wake-up calls in the morning, all of the meals are at scheduled times,” explains Gartland. “Residents have assignments throughout the day that they’re expected to complete. And that is all by design to help them learn soft skills and hard skills, so they can re-enter society and the workforce. We’re teaching life skills to sustain them in the future, and an event like the softball game with Range can play a really important role in helping us work toward that goal with our residents. So often, homeless people aren’t seen. People look away. At the softball game, the employees of Range were really with our people, making eye contact, shaking hands, giving high-fives. It meant so much.”
The City Mission residents weren’t the only group who left the field feeling inspired. Laural Ziemba played on the Range team, and helped to organize the softball game. “City Mission is a really special organization. We spent time with them last Thanksgiving as Range employees volunteered to serve meals there. After that experience, we wanted to do something more—and a group discussion led to the organization of this softball game.”
Like other Range employees on the team, she was surprised by the impact the game had on her too. “There’s something special about being on a ball field in the summer. It’s quintessential Americana, and I think it takes you back to your childhood. And for the two hours or so that you’re on the field, you can put any troubles you have aside, and just play ball. There’s a purity there, and we were so glad to connect with the team from City Mission in that way. So much so that a number of our employees stayed after the official game was over, and kept playing with the residents! They were there until it got dark out. And I think that’s pretty special. They just kept playing.”
The official game ended with a score of 14-8, with the team from Range racking up the most runs. But the win wasn’t found in the score, or even in the check for over $5,500 in funds raised as a result of the event. The win was on the field, where two very different teams became equals, and life’s hardships were set aside for a few simple hours where the only sounds that mattered were the crack of a bat meeting ball, the thwack of a ball meeting glove, the good-natured ribbing of a friendly competition, cheers from the stands, and the slap of high-fives amid murmured “good games” as the evening came to an end.
“The residents have been walking up to me, thanking me for letting them play,” says Gartland. “And I keep saying, thank Range Resources. They’re the ones that came up with the idea, set it all up, got the shirts, raised the money, and made it happen. And we are so thankful to Range Resources for giving us this opportunity.”