As a group of curious onlookers searched for a Sharpie and a ball for the baseball players in front of them to sign, it was clear by the smiles on their faces that a difference was being made.
Those kind of feel-good vibes the Peninsula Oilers have been giving out this summer have translated into growing support for the team, as evidenced during one of their community events June 29 at the Frontier Community Services World Series event held at the Soldotna Little League Fields.
“It makes (the Oilers players) realize how lucky they have it,” said Oilers head coach Jim Dietz said about the time the team has put into getting to know the greater Kenai and Soldotna areas. “It’s also important for the community’s growth and development.”
Dietz, 78, has been around long enough to know the good a sports team can do when it aligns itself with the right people. Dietz has played an integral role in placing the organization into a more prominent spotlight in the community, and along with Oilers board president Michael Tice and his hardworking staff, Dietz said the Oilers board has worked to schedule events and work in the community to gain support in times of need.
“It’s important because sometimes we take things in life for granted,” Dietz said. “Whether it’s a car accident or a kidney disease, it’s important to get out and meet people.”
In its 14th year, the Frontier Community Services World Series gathering in late June has taken root as an annual event between the players and clients of FCS, which provides a service to individuals with special needs.
Many of those that have benefitted from FCS were out at the Soldotna Little League fields for a day with the Oilers, even though rain forced a cancellation of the game that was to be played between the players and FCS clients.
Amanda Faulkner, executive director of FCS in Soldotna, said the organization has a clear mission statement.
“We celebrate their abilities, not their disabilities,” she explained. “We try to reduce the stigma around disabilities.”
Local Emergency Services workers were also out enjoying the day and giving FCS clients an opportunity to check out the vehicles used in emergency situations. A fire truck sat stationed adjacent to the barbecue area, where folks were able to get their face painted along with a bite to eat while socializing with the Oilers.
The Oilers working with community causes isn’t a new thing. The organization has lent a hand in a number of community service and charity events, and this summer has taken time to participate in at least a half dozen affairs, most of them involving youth.
Oilers pitcher Raymond Kerr said while he works on perfecting his craft this summer in the Alaska Baseball League, keeping his playing career on track is only part of the deal he signed up for when he travelled to Alaska.
“It builds fans and builds an image for the Oilers,” Kerr said about his involvement. “We care a lot about the community, and it’s important to be a role model to kids.”
Kerr joined the team this year after two years at Lassen Community College in California. The Reno, Nevada, native said three early season camps the team put together for young kids interested in the sport helped open his eyes to the impact he and his teammates had on the community.
“We’re basically saying, ‘We’ll give up some of our time to do stuff for you guys’,” he said.
“It’s so easy to put on your dark glasses and not notice it,” Dietz added. “It just makes you a better person.”
Faulkner added that she saw early in her life how making a difference for people that need help can add enjoyment and life to an otherwise dire situation. She thanked the Oilers board for their involvement, adding that the stigma involving special needs individuals is rapidly decreasing.
“When I went to high school, the special needs kids were still segregated from everyone else,” Faulkner, a 1991 SoHi grad, said. “The last 20 years, you’ve seen them come together. We’re not there yet, but it’s coming together.”