When three-time Major League Baseball all-star John Kruk moved to Naples three years ago, it was the softball team – not baseball – at his kids' school that caught his attention.
Kruk's two children attend Seacrest, where the Stingrays varsity softball team has to play at a local park for lack of a home field. Kruk could empathize – in the rural West Virginia town where he was raised his high school team had to play all its sports off campus.
"I always wondered what would be different if we got to play sports on campus," Kruk said. "That school pride, I don't know if I had that. At Seacrest you see all these signs for the basketball team, the volleyball team. They need that for the softball team."
Kruk is doing all he can to help bring the softball team back to Seacrest. The former Philadelphia Phillies slugger and current ESPN personality has organized a dinner to raise money for the construction of a Stingrays' softball field, and he's enlisted some famous friends to help.
Baseball & Barbecue is Feb. 9 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort. Kruk will speak along with Hall of Fame Phillies player Mike Schmidt and Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The three will interact with guests and participate in a question and answer session.
Since moving to town, Kruk has worked with the Stingrays softball team at times. Though he's a 10-year veteran of the MLB and analyst for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, Kruk became an avid supporter of softball after announcing games at the Women's College World Series a few years back.
When he saw Seacrest didn't have a softball field, Kruk wanted to help. Stingrays athletic director Mark Marsala said the school has plans for a field but that it needs roughly $35,000 for construction.
"To me, where they're practicing just isn't conducive to building a program," said Kruk, who has a fifth-grade son and third-grade daughter at Seacrest. "These girls need a place on campus they can be proud to wear the Seacrest uniform."
Right now the Stingrays have to drive 10 minutes to East Naples Community Park for practice and games. With many of the softball players not yet old enough to drive, transportation is a problem.
Kruk hopes that putting a field on campus makes the softball team more attractive to girls who might not have the ability or desire to travel to and from practice after school.
"We don't have the excess dollars to do a project like this," Marsala said. "With John's help, we can get this done. And it's an opportunity for people in our area to come out and see one of the greatest players of all time in Mike Schmidt."
Schmidt is a 12-time all-star and three-time National League MVP. Kruk and Schmidt were at the Phillies fantasy camp in Clearwater last week when Kruk got the Hall of Famer to agree to come to Naples.
Kruk also brought in Showalter, whom he worked with at ESPN before Showalter took over the Orioles in 2010. Marsala said it was Showalter's idea to make the fundraising event a laid-back barbeque dinner.
"Buck is one of the funniest guys I've ever been around," Kruk said. "His one-liners are impeccable. Schmidty is one of those guys who's not afraid to say what he feels, so it could be interesting."
Tickets are $175 a person, or $500 for a VIP ticket that includes a private cocktail hour with Kruk, Schmidt and Showalter. Availability will be limited. Marsala said only about 150 tickets, will be sold including just 40 VIP tickets.
Baseball & Barbecue starts at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, 400 S. Collier Blvd. Guests can register online at seacrest.org, or contact Teressa Massa at 793-1986 for more information.