RICHMOND -- The theft of essential equipment from two break-ins in 10 days canceled more than a half-dozen games and had the Richmond Little League Baseball and Girls Softball programs on the ropes.
Then a lefty came in from across the Bay and saved the game.
After seeing an ABC7 news broadcast about a break-in at the league's Nicholl Park concession stand, Lefty O'Doul's restaurant owner Nick Bovis contacted league officials and days later presented league Vice President Thomas Gary with a $1,500 check to recover stolen equipment and concessions. Bovis also had Gary and more than 40 Richmond youths come to his San Francisco tavern for free food and drinks, along with a cache of T-shirts and hats.
The money came from the Lefty O'Doul's Foundation for Kids, a nonprofit wing of the popular restaurant dedicated to increasing youth access to organized baseball, particularly in underprivileged communities.
"After we saw what happened on the news, we knew we were going to help," foundation spokesman Lee Houskeeper said. "Nick said we are going to do whatever it takes to make sure these kids don't lose their season."
The money will cover the equipment and merchandise stolen from a storage locker April 13 and April 23, Gary said. Along with about $75 in a cash drawer, thieves made off with bats and two sets of umpire gear. The equipment is now stored at a more secure location.
"It's a beautiful story how this turned out," Gary said. "The devil came in here, but God put his weight down and made things right."
Bovis said Monday he wants to launch a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com to enhance the baseball facilities at Nicholl Park, including new scoreboards, outfield fencing, bleachers, lighting and concession stands. Bovis estimates that the work may cost about $20,000, and he said his foundation and San Francisco law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy will put down the first $5,000.
O'Doul, a journeyman pitcher and outfielder who later became a minor league manager, is credited with helping establish baseball in Japan after World War II.
In the postwar years, Richmond was a thriving hotbed of African-American baseball talent, sending dozens of players to the professional ranks over the decades. But in recent years, participation has declined and fields have fallen into disrepair or been converted for soccer.
Richmond's Little League was particularly vulnerable to the theft because of its shoestring budget, Gary said.
"We are a $50-per-kid league, and we only collect from about 60 percent of the kids because we don't want to turn anyone away because they can't pay," Gary said.
Helping in Richmond would have been dear to Lefty's heart, Houskeeper said.
"(Lefty) believed that if kids could play baseball, they would turn out better in life," Houskeeper said.
Richmond's Little League plays on nights and weekends at Nicholl Park through June.