Minor League Sports

Dugout Sports, MLB pitcher Mitch Keller team up to support local firefighters during pandemic

CEDAR RAPIDS — Jay Whannel is baseball through and through.

He was a star player in high school and college, played briefly in the professional independent leagues. He coached in college and started his own baseball business.

Dugout Sports in Fairfax is an indoor training facility for youths and others, complete with private instruction if you want it. But there is another profession that Whannel kept coming across recently.

“We have a handful of members whose dads are firemen,” he said. “My partner at the Dugout (Jared TeBockhorst) is a Farm Bureau guy in Fairfax, and he has an employee who is a volunteer fireman in Fairfax. My oldest son is playing on a top-tier team, and the coach is a part-time fireman. All these firemen just kept popping up.”

So Whannel decided to meld baseball and firefighting in a neat little fundraiser.

“We were talking about it one day, and I was ‘You know what, with all this, maybe we can just do some kind of shirt and give all the proceeds to the local fire department,’” Whannel said.

So that’s what he did. Dugout Sports has designed a black T-shirt it is selling for $20 apiece, with all proceeds going to local fire departments for masks and other supplies.

The T-shirt features a baseball wearing a protective facemask bearing the Dugout Sports logo. It was designed by Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller, a Cedar Rapids Xavier prep who is throwing at Dugout Sports during this pandemic to stay sharp in case there is a Major League Baseball season.

Other professional players using Dugout’s facility to get work in include Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Puk (a Cedar Rapids Washington grad) and local minor leaguers Spencer Van Scoyoc (Philadelphia Phillies/Cedar Rapids Jefferson), Connor Van Scoyoc (Los Angeles Angels/Cedar Rapids Jefferson), Zach Daniels (Atlanta Braves/Cedar Rapids Kennedy) and C.J. Eldred (Kansas City Royals/Mount Vernon).

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“Mitch was like ‘Oh, man, that’d be awesome. I’m all in,’” Whannel said. “We started drawing some stuff out, texting each other back and forth. That’s kind of how it went. He was like ‘I like this one,’ we put the fire logo on the back. There you go.”

Whannel theorized Keller actually might have gotten some design help from his fiancee, Clancy Haase.

“She might have had some say in the final design,” he said with a laugh.

Whannel said those interested in purchasing a shirt can contact him via Twitter at @DugoutSportsF or via email at Dugoutsportsfairfax@gmail.com

The preferred method of payment is via Venmo.

“We’ve probably sold over 150 already. It has been awesome,” Whannel said. “I was just hoping to sell 100. That was just the number I had. I was like ‘It’s a T-shirt, how many people are going to want another one?’ But we’re mailing to Kansas City, other places. It’s been great.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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