Finding The Game

How Turn 2 For Youth Gives Old Baseball Equipment A Second Chance

By: Marty Winkler

Originally Posted: 1/21/2019

There is an old saying in baseball that goes, "This game will find you." These five words are as simple as they are cryptic. There are several places to be on a baseball field, and while you may not be in position to be involved in much of the action, at some point a ball is going to be hit in your direction. The baseball will find you. So, you best be prepared for when it does.

Turn 2 For Youth Co-founders Eric Smith (left) and Billy Owens (right)

Being prepared is not just a lesson to learn in baseball. It can be a solid lesson in life as well. It's something that long-time friends and Turn Two for Youth Founders, Billy Owens and Eric Smith, learned first-hand while vacationing together with family.

"We were in Turks and Caicos," Smith exuberantly reminisced. "And Billy has two boys, I have a son, and we all like to fish. So we chartered a boat to go deep sea fishing for a day."

It was here, on a random fishing boat, that the game found them.

Smith and Owens began chatting with the boat captain, and the conversation turned to life away from the fishing boat and learned that their captain was also a youth baseball coach. "He started talking about how he essentially had to do everything himself and how his team was having to share equipment," remembered Smith. The captain noted that not only was his team having to share equipment, but the equipment they did have was torn up and in bad shape.

This news sent Smith and Owens into action. "When we got home to Charlotte (North Carolina) we just started collecting things ourselves," said Smith. But the two did more than just collect items that had been gathering dust in their basements and garages. In an effort that can only be described as grassroots, the two friends, who were working as CPAs at the time, began reaching out to their personal network of friends, family, coworkers, and other baseball families they had connected with over the years.

According to Billy Owens, the task of collecting baseball equipment could not have fallen to a better party, as he was quick to note how immersed in the game of baseball both he and Smith have been their entire life. "Good Lord," exclaimed Owens. "I can't describe it. Eric's coached. My dad played college ball. My brother-in-law is one of the winningest high school coaches in South Carolina. We are baseball people. We absolutely love it."

With a large baseball network, it's no surprise that their call for donations was loudly met. Pouring in came bats, gloves, balls, shoes, helmets, and even some catcher's equipment. All sent in from local families.

"It took us a year to help, but we did send an entire shipping container of equipment," Smith explained. It was a year well spent, as the two were able to collect and refurbish an estimated 3,200 pounds of baseball equipment. "It was a lot of hard work, and we thought we were done right then and there," said Smith.

But the game would find them once again.

A year after that initial collection effort for Turks and Caicos, Owens' son, Bo Owens, was invited to play baseball in the Dominican Republic at a summer camp hosted by the University of Virginia. Before Bo left for the camp, Owens bought him brand new equipment. But when his son returned, none of his new equipment returned with him.

"I asked him what happened," recounted Owens. "And he said, 'Well Dad, we went down there, and the second baseman was playing with cardboard on his hand. So I just left all my equipment there.'"

Hearing this, Owens and Smith jumped into action again, but they had a feeling that they would need to do something on a grander scale. "The Turks and Caicos campaign, that was a personal effort," explained Owens. "It was all done as a personal campaign. Nothing formal. But when we did the Dominican campaign, that's when we filed to be an official organization."

And thus, Turn Two for Youth was officially born.

Filing to be recognized as an official charity proved to be quite fruitful. While both Owens and Smith still used their own connections to help collect and ship equipment, they were able to acquire the sponsorship of Major League Baseball, who agreed to store the collected equipment in their Santo Domingo warehouse and helped distribute the equipment across the Dominican Republic.

Billy Owens' son, Bo, inspired their collection efforts for the Dominican Republic and sparked the official creation of Turn 2 For Youth.

In the years that have followed their initial campaigns, Turn Two for Youth has only continued to grow. With the help of their Executive Director, Vince Chelena, Owens and Smith have ran or assisted numerous collection campaigns across the United States, providing help as best they can to any community, team, or league that has reached out to them.

In the fall of 2016, the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) named Turn Two for Youth their official charity, which has not only broadened their network to ask for donations, but has also allowed those in need to contact them directly.

"What we have found over the last few years is that coaches will reach out to us from communities that have real needs," said Owens. "But they have also reached out to us to let us know that they have players that want to be involved in some way."

The duo found that their deeds sometimes go beyond baseball, as individuals have contacted them looking for help in rebuilding after recent natural disasters, such as the hurricanes in Houston and the wild fires in Los Angeles. "Communities that have been impacted by disaster have actually reached out," explained Owens. "After the media and the Red Cross have gone, we are able to come in and help. We've been to Houston. We've been in LA. There is a healing power to baseball."

There is a healing power to baseball.

That healing power is what has allowed Turn Two for Youth to continue to grow and expand. Aside from collecting and donating refurbished equipment, the charity also provides equipment for baseball clinics that are put on by the Los Angeles Police Department, and they are the official equipment provider for the Miracle League, which designs fields and complexes for children with mental and physical disabilities to take part in the game of baseball.

Not everyone will have the time or resources at their disposal, and Owens and Smith realize that. They make it clear that they are available to assist with anyone that wants to start a collection of their own. And if forming a collection isn't an option, they do accept monetary donations, and a little cash can do wonders.

"Taking into account the gear we are collecting and our operation costs, we've (roughly) estimated that you can outfit an entire player head-to-toe for about $39," Owens explained. "We want people to realize that a small gift can go a very long way with our organization."

Both Owens and Smith hope, and truly believe, that their work goes beyond equipment. They also want to help form bonds between teammates and coaches, as well as simply continue to grow the game that they both are passionate about. "This is something that we love," exclaims Smith. "And we know how passionate coaches are about their players; How passionate parents are about their kids; How passionate players are about the game. We want to pass on the passion of baseball for kids to learn the lessons of life long-term."

"It's about getting kids in the hands of good individuals," Owens added. "Growing up you have good teachers and good mentors. We are really trying to create that tie between a coach and young people."

In other words, it's about helping those that need it the most, find the game.

If you are interested in starting your own equipment drive, or simply want to make a donation of your own, visit turn2foryouth.com to learn how you, your team, and your community can get involved.