Troy Farkas wasn’t sure how much equipment would come in, but he sure didn’t expect it to fill his garage.
The Shenendehowa junior was looking at more than 850 baseball and softball uniforms, bats, helmets, gloves, catching gear, cleats and other sports equipment after the Saturday collection drive he organized at Clifton Commons, and he just knew: “She would have loved this.”
Deanna Rivers loved softball, she loved kids and she loved helping others. There’s no doubt, friends and family agreed, that she would love Deanna’s Dugout, an organization recently launched in her honor that collects sports equipment for needy kids.
“She went to her church a lot and helped out there,” said Farkas. “Her and Matt would do stuff like that because Matt’s very religious and they are just two of the best people I know. Deanna was just a great person and I know she would have been on board with this.”
Rivers, 17, died in a Dec. 1, 2012 accident on the Northway, along with fellow Shen senior Christopher Stewart. Her boyfriend Matt Hardy, a Shen senior, and Stewart’s girlfriend Bailey Wind, a Shaker High senior, were seriously injured in the crash; they continue to recover from the horrific night.
Farkas created Deanna’s Dugout as a way to keep River’s memory alive. He was always great friends with Hardy, but it wasn’t until Rivers became the stats keeper for his basketball team in his freshman year that they became close friends.
“She was very nice to me,” he recalled. “We quickly became friends.”
After she died, her family told Farkas that if he could come up with a way to honor her memory, they would be glad to help out. So he combined the two things she was passionate about into one project: softball and community service.
“I knew she loved softball, so I mixed her love for the sport with her general good-naturedness and helping other people, and this just seemed like a good fusion of those two things,” he said.
Deanna’s Dugout is probably best explained by a caption posted to the organization’s web page March 14, above a picture of Rivers, smiling in her green Shen uniform and clutching a softball glove close to her chest: “Deanna always had such a nice smile on her face on the field. We can’t wait to deliver the equipment we collect to the kids who need it. Since Deanna’s career ambition was to be a teacher, we know she would be happy sharing the sport she loved with other kids.”
The first drive was held in Latham last month, followed by a drive in East Greenbush and Saturday’s event in Clifton Park.
The equipment will go to kids in southern New Jersey who were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and left with little equipment for the state’s Babe Ruth Baseball/Softball program. Farkas reached out to Al Solanik, New Jersey commissioner of Babe Ruth Baseball, about his desire to help out and Solanik readily accepted.
“Everything was destroyed down there,” he said. “People are a lot poorer now, they’re running out of money. So instead of having to go buy new equipment to play this season, they will have free equipment.”
Of course, Farkas hadn’t expected to end up with a garage full of lightly used softball and baseball equipment. He suspects the large turnout was due to the drive’s location in Clifton Park, which is still reeling from the December tragedy. He and a whole host of volunteers wearing “Deanna Dugout” T-shirts spent time Saturday afternoon cleaning and disinfecting the equipment and painting helmets.
Any left over after the donations to Sandy victims will go to upstate New York kids, he said.
“Everyone’s been very supportive,” he said. “It’s really been that way throughout this community since it happened. We’re a lot closer now and it showed itself again today.”
Another drive will be held today from 9 a.m. to noon at the Bethlehem Line Drive Park in Delmar. Next week, a drive will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at Blatnick Park in Niskayuna.