When any baseball fan hears the name Bernie Williams, a distinct image immediately comes to mind. Brimming with class, a confident smile, and, of course, dressed in pinstripes, Williams is to the Yankees what The Stadium is to the Yankees—forever connected until the very end of time.
Williams, however, possesses the undeniable character traits which transcend the uniform and are universally admired by fans from New York, Chicago and, yes, even Boston, whenever his name is mentioned.
"Bernie Williams is a class act," explains Bob Salomon, coach of the award-winning children's story A Glove of Their Own. "I guarantee you that every teammate, every opponent, and every fan of baseball describes him in much the same way. A kind and caring family man, who also happened to be one hell of a baseball player.
"Bernie, the man, is far bigger than any stats he put up on the board," added Salomon, who is the "man behind the movement" that has the entire baseball world talking about his wonderful children's story.
"He defines what my project is all about."
Williams is the latest in a growing roster of star players and coaches who not only promote A Glove of Their Own, but who have aligned themselves with its message of giving.
"It's about paying it forward and that is what these players are all about. Players like Jason Grilli, Joe Torre, Tommy John, Dick Drago, Craig Biggio, Roy White, Phil Niekro, Ken Griffey and Luis Tiant Jr.," Salomon said. "These are the players who have become synonymous with kindness and have become such a huge part of the movement that surrounds the pages of the book."
Salomon and authors Keri Conkling, Debbie Moldovan, and Lisa Funari-Willever created A Glove of Their Own less than a year ago as a way to teach kids about paying it forward through baseball.
The book has a heartfelt, rhyming message that allows children to experience giving through a simple act of kindness performed by a stranger. It is through this act that the message of the book becomes apparent.
Salomon, a Little League coach, husband, and father of two, considers himself fortunate to work with the players and often has difficulty understanding the magnitude of what he is building.
"I speak to these athletes frequently. Guys like Drago, Tiant, Junior, and Tommy John have become my friends," Salomon said. "Their advice is invaluable and we share a mutual love of the game.
"Bernie and the other players worked their whole career to project a certain image every time they put on the uniform. They played the game the right way. They were bigger than steroids, cheating and skyrocketing salaries, and they each lived their life outside of baseball in much the same way.
"I'm confident that if you took the salaries out of the game, these guys would still suit up each day, slap on some eye-black and be at the field two hours before game time. That's what these guys stand for and what my book stands for, too."
Salomon speaks endlessly about using the book to heal the black eye that baseball has gotten in recent years. He is passionate about cleaning up the negativity that surrounds the sport and uses the book as part of his platform to resurrect the game's image.
"Baseball has gotten a bad name and that really upsets me," he said. "It's time to start discussing the positives in baseball. To bring baseball back to what it was intended to be. Baseball is a kids game. This is what my whole project is about. Giving baseball and all the goodness that surrounds it back to the kids."
Like perhaps no other, Salomon is humbled by the greatness of the lineup he has assembled and is grateful for their participation in the project.
"This isn't about statistics. It's about the character of the man," he said. "This All-Star team is about far more than hits, walks, and errors. It's about life."
And the addition of Williams gives Salomon the clean-up hitter that allows him to knock his message home.
"Bernie represents what this project is all about," Salomon said. "The man lives to give.
"People often forget about the goodness that these athletes try to promote. That's why they start their own foundations. As a way to thank God for the amazing good fortune that they have been blessed with."
Players, coaches and organizations like Louisville Slugger, Rawlings, Modell's Sporting Goods, Upper Deck, and iFungo have also aligned themselves with the book and are using it as part of their campaign of giving.
For each sale of the book, $3.30 is donated to any of the 100 affiliated non-profit organizations listed on a drop down menu on the book's popular Web site.
"We have some wonderful organizations that are benefiting from sales of the book," Salomon said. "Groups like Covenant House, who recently came on board and does so many great things for homeless children. It is a great pleasure to welcome them as part of the Glove team."
According to Salomon, he's nowhere near finished with his vision. He has plans to continually update the book to include a reference section where fans can be made aware of the players' foundations and showcase all the good that they do off the field.
"The final step in my project is to hold a huge charity event that brings all of the players together to simply thank them and to let the fans thank them," Salomon said. "Then—and only then—will my mission be complete."
Todd Civin is a freelance writer for Bleacher Report, Seamheads, and Boston Sports Then and Now. He can be reached at email@example.com. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award-winning children's story that teaches paying it forward through baseball.
Please visit the site at www.agloveoftheirown.com and purchase the book under today's donor code CVH113 Covenant House Foundation or RWF626 The Roy White Foundation, as $3.00 from each book sold will be donated to these wonderful charities, while an additional 30 cents will be used to purchase sporting equipment for underprivileged children.