10 May Former minor leaguer Dennis Bair is founder of the BairFind Foundation, which promotes awareness of missing and exploited children
Two of the three women authorities say were abducted and imprisoned for years by Cleveland creep Ariel Castro, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, were featured in the foundation’s ‘BringHome100’ campaign, an attempt to find 100 missing kids and reunite them with their families.
By Michael O’keeffe / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Dennis Bair hasn’t pitched in a professional baseball game in a decade, but the former minor leaguer should be credited with a save this week.
Bair is the founder of the BairFind Foundation, a Pittsburgh-area organization that has worked tirelessly for more than a decade to promote awareness of missing and exploited children. Two of the three women authorities say were abducted and imprisoned for years by Cleveland creep Ariel Castro, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, were featured in the foundation’s “BringHome100” campaign, an attempt to find 100 missing kids and reunite them with their families.
Eighteen of the missing kids featured in the campaign, including Berry and DeJesus, are now safe at home. Bair has become especially close with DeJesus’ family.
“When I got the news I immediately called Gina’s mom, Nancy Ruiz,” Bair said. “We were both laughing and crying on the phone, and she said, ‘Thank you, Dennis, you never gave up.’ Nancy and her family never gave up, either.
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“Nancy always believed her daughter was alive, and that they had to find her and bring her home.”
Bair, who played in the Cubs, Reds and Diamondbacks organizations, says he was inspired to form his foundation after he returned to his boyhood home in suburban Pittsburgh after the 1999 season and found autographed photos of Steelers running back Rocky Bleier and Pirates third baseman Jim Morrison in his closet. He realized that while people throw out missing children fliers and don’t pay attention to milk cartons, they keep and treasure sports photos. He decided that when he reached the major leagues, he would sign photos of missing kids and give them to fans.
Injuries prevented Bair, now a 38-year-old baseball coach at Peters Township (Pa.) High School, from making it to The Show, but they didn’t stop him from launching the BairFind Foundation or enlisting his childhood hero Bleier to serve on its board of directors. The foundation has worked with seven minor league baseball teams since its inception, including the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Class-A farm team. The Pirates and Steelers are also BairFind Foundation partners.
The premise of the BairFind program is simple: The foundation prints and distributes team photos that include a missing child’s picture and biographical information. The teams stage autograph sessions after a game. Bair hopes those pictures are hung on bedroom walls and refrigerator doors — and that fans will recognize the abducted children if they pass them on the street.
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Photos of Gina DeJesus and other missing children were shown on the scoreboard when Bair attended a Cleveland Cavaliers game with Ruiz and other family members last month. Ruiz also threw out the first pitch at an Indians game last season.
“The more eyes out there, the better the chances are that more kids will get to go home,” says St. Lucie Mets manager Ryan Ellis, Bair’s longtime friend who also serves on the foundation’s board.
Ellis hopes his club can host a BairFind event later this summer, but Bair has bigger ambitions: He hopes both the Yankees and Mets will lend the foundation a hand. If Bair had his way, the Mets would host a BairFind Foundation event this July before the All-Star Game, which will draw media from across the country to Citi Field.
“We’d like to have an event where an All-Star could represent a missing child from his city, and they could talk about those children and their families,” Bair said.
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