14 May Dodd Stadium to feature photos of missing children in nationwide campaign
By Claire Bessette, Day staff writer
Norwich – Fans entering the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium will find many signs and placards describing everything from beer selections to food offerings, the baseball game lineup and game sponsors.
The Connecticut Tigers also want fans also to notice a wooden A-frame sign on the concourse behind the press box that depicts photos and descriptions of four missing children from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The BairFind Foundation, a national charity founded by former minor league pitcher Dennis Bair, has been placing missing children signs in minor league baseball stadiums since 2011, starting with the New York-Penn League – the short-season Class A league in which the Tigers play.
This spring, the foundation became an official charity of Minor League Baseball, which could expand the BairFind signs from the 40 participating stadiums in 2015 to up to 160 stadiums nationwide, Bair said.
“Now that we’re an official charity of Minor League Baseball, we have opportunity to revolutionize the search for missing children,” Bair said in a telephone interview from the foundation’s Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters.
The signs are customized to feature missing children from nearby cities and towns for the best chance of success, Bair said. When a child is found safe, the BairFind Foundation sends a red “Found” decal for the team to place over the child’s photo. Soon afterward, information on another missing child is sent to the stadium.
Last week, the Connecticut Tigers learned they will receive a “Found” sticker to place over the photo of Hermax Gilbert of Stamford, now 18, who had been missing for two years before he was found safe Feb. 1 in Stamford. Because of confidentiality rules, the Tigers and even BairFind receive little information about how the case was resolved – including whether anyone at Dodd Stadium called in a tip that helped find the teenager — Bair said.
The three still on the Dodd Stadium poster are: Andrea Reyes, born Nov. 9, 1997, missing from New Haven since Oct. 5, 1999; Sherif Gewily, born March 11, 1998, and missing from Meriden Dec. 9, 2001, and Rosa Camacho, born Dec. 7, 1993, and missing from Hartford since Oct. 24, 1997. A notation states that Camacho was last seen leaving a store with her mother, Rosa Delgado, who was later found dead.
Connecticut Tigers General Manager David Shermerhorn said he looks forward to adding the “Found” sticker to Gilbert’s photo and hopes for more such stickers for the Dodd Stadium sign.
This summer, the Tigers will make public address announcements to remind fans to look at the BairFind sign on the concourse and report any information to the phone numbers provided if they recognize a child. Bair said he recorded a 20-second public service announcement to be played in stadiums.
Bair, who pitched in the New York-Penn League in 1995 for the Williamsport Cubs, said he got the idea for BairFind after watching a TV documentary on parents desperately searching for their missing daughter – this was pre-Internet.
Bair realized that minor league stadiums draw thousands of fans, and the best way to find a missing child is for as many people as possible to view the photo and read the information. He told his idea to a physical therapist after shoulder surgery and the doctor urged him to “take it nationwide.”
Bair said the most dramatic story he has heard was from the Tampa Yankees community relations office. A boy walking with his parents stopped to look at the BairFind sign and said: “I know that kid. He’s in my class,” Bair was told. The family reported it to a police officer at the game, and the boy was soon found.
“Once we show how successful we’re doing this summer, I hope to attract some corporate sponsors and travel to stadiums, and bring out the parents of children found to come to stadiums,” Bair said.
© 2016 The Day Publishing Company.