"This is really close to my heart. I'm really passionate about giving kids the chance to play ball," said Smalley. "What we have really found is that when kids and families get their worlds turned upside down, the first thing is safety and shelter and food. But the sooner they can return to some sort of normal activity -- especially for the kids -- it seems to make the whole family feel better."
Indeed, Smalley can speak well of the therapeutic effects of baseball. His father and namesake had also played in the Major Leagues, and his uncle, Gene Mauch, managed in the Majors for two decades. The younger Smalley played for 12 years and was named an All-Star during his career, but he spends his post-playing days as a portfolio manager and financial planner for Morgan Stanley
Smalley also works as a Minnesota broadcaster, but he's found a new passion as an advocate for underpriveledged children around the globe. Pitch in for Baseball has grown rapidly over the last few years, and Smalley said that he's grown encouraged by the response to the organization's mission.
"You can imagine what baseball has meant in my life, so any kid that wants to play baseball and can't because they don't have equipment is just a tragedy for me," he said. "We've helped all kinds of kids play ball, from underserved communities and underprivileged kids to disaster relief. For the last two or three years, disaster relief has been at the forefront of what we're doing."
Smalley said that his group has been involved in relief efforts dating back to Hurricane Katrina, and baseball equipment has been sent as far away as Japan following the 2011 tsunami. Smalley said he was particularly touched by the relief efforts in the wake of the tornado in Joplin, Mo.
"They lost everything. The kids there, they lost their homes. It was devastating," he said. "They had lost homes and bicycles and everything. They were going to start their season in two weeks or something like that and thought they had to put their little league season on hold until next year. We were actually able to get them equipment and they played on their originally scheduled Opening Day."
Now, with help from the national community, Pitch in for Baseball is poised to bring its outreach to the East Coast. The charity is affiliated with Little League Baseball, which has helped designate leagues that are particularly in need, and Smalley said as nearly 5,000 kids could be affected.
"This one is the biggest magnitude," he said of the Sandy relief effort. "As of right now, we have plans to replace equipment in 10 leagues in Long Island and New Jersey. Conservatively speaking, it's a total of about 4,500 kids that are going to get the equipment, and it's a big effort for us. We're a little organization, but we're growing by leaps and bounds. It's been a big, big ramp-up for us."
The New Jersey towns of Bayonne and Bayshore will receive some of the equipment, as will the Long Island towns of Island Park, North Merrick, Oceanside, Rockaway and East Rockaway. More leagues may still apply, said Smalley, but many may be waiting to re-sod their fields for 2014.
Smalley said there are a variety of ways that people can help out in their own way, and they can investigate the cause by visiting PitchInForBaseball.org. Fans can also text "Give Gloves" to 80088 to make a $10 donation, money that will directly aid in the effort to equip the youth of America.
"We collect new and gently used equipment from all over the country," said Smalley, noting that fans are always welcome to donate. "It's been amazing the response that we've gotten when people find out about us. The more people hear about us, the more equipment seems to roll in."