Sports

Bo Jackson and other heavy hitters coming to Cedar Rapids on July 27

Perfect Game hosting a celebrity softball game with Bo, other ex-MLB stars

Perfect Game USA began in 1995 with an imperfect business plan, but what a force the baseball-promoting business has become.

It’s almost a perfect secret in Cedar Rapids, where Perfect Game has quietly grown into a company with over 100 full-time employees and offices spread across the nation.

“I just liked baseball,” Perfect Game founder/president Jerry Ford said. “There was no genius plan.

“I started this to help Iowa high school kids. The way the (high school baseball) season lays out in the summer here, they always seemed to be a year behind the rest of the country.”

So Ford opened an indoor facility in southwest Cedar Rapids where kids could work on their game and be seen by scouts in the spring and fall. Quickly, Iowa players got their profiles enhanced. That showed up in the college and pro baseball ranks soon enough, and has to this day.

“I knew we were doing good,” Ford said. “I just didn’t know how to make money. To survive and continue we had to expand.”

So Ford took Perfect Game nationally. Amateur players got instruction, got showcases in which to play. Now, it’s much harder to find prominent major-league players who didn’t play in Perfect Game events as opposed to those to have.

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“I think we’ve had over 1,300 MLB players,” said Ford. “It’s a who’s-who. Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw — you name it. We just give kids opportunity. It’s up to them what happens.”

Opportunity means more than that with Ford and his family, though. On noon at July 27, Veterans Memorial Stadium will be the site of the first Perfect Game Cares Celebrity Softball Game. The proceeds will go to Perfect Game Cares Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“Supporting, empowering and inspiring America’s underserved children in our most impoverished neighborhoods in athletics, education and mentorship,” is the foundation’s mission according to its website.

The foundation dates to 2003, and has helped raise over $3 million for pediatric cancer research, children’s hospitals, autism research, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Jerry Ford said the softball event is the idea of his daughter, foundation director Jennifer Ford. It is getting off the ground in a big way. Heading the list of former major-league players appearing is Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy-winning running back who became a pro football and baseball star and one the one of the most-iconic American athletes of any era.

“Bo is a very dear friend of Tom ‘Flash’ Gordon, who is a big cheerleader for Perfect Game,” Jennifer said.

Like Jackson, Gordon is a former Kansas City Royal. He had 138 wins and 158 saves in his MLB career, so that’s a name-player who will be at the celebrity game, too. There are more.

Like Hall of Fame relief pitcher Trevor Hoffman, second all-time in MLB saves with 601. And Andruw Jones, who hit 434 career home runs. And Greg Vaughn and Luis Gonzalez, who hit 355 and 354 MLB home runs, respectively.

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Also appearing will be former University of Iowa sports stars like Tim Dwight and Marvin McNutt, supermodel Alanna Arrington of Cedar Rapids, and three former Miss Iowas.

Tickets for the event are $5 for kids 12 and under, $10 otherwise. They can be purchased at perfectgamecares.org.

As a big bonus, there will be a free youth baseball and softball camp from 8 to 11 a.m. that day at the stadium with the former MLB players who are here, with registration at the Perfect Game Cares website through July 15.

“The experience and learning will be an amazing opportunity for the young folks,” Jennifer Ford said, “and they’ll be rubbing elbows with the big guys.”

“We’ve got a lot of support from former Major League Baseball players and even football players and business people,” Jerry Ford said. “We’re trying to reach kids from at-risk areas. We’d like to add more diversity in baseball.”

The annual Zach Johnson Foundation Classic, which has done so much for in-need Cedar Rapids families over the last nine years, is Monday. Perfect Game’s event is a great bookend for July.

Cue up the Bruce Springsteen song. We take care of our own.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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