ST. LOUIS, Mo.– More than 2,400 Missouri and Illinois 4-H’ers and their families and friends invaded Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis on a recent Saturday afternoon for the 2014 edition of “4-H Day with the Cardinals.” Clad in T-shirts with the familiar 4-H clover logo, the throng completely encircled the field for 30 minutes during a pregame parade.
“We’ve held this event every year since 2002, the year of 4-H’s centennial,” said Rhonda Shafer, MU Extension 4-H youth specialist based in Lincoln County. “I think it’s a great way to have 4-H families come together and celebrate the great American pastime. 4-H is a wonderful youth program. It’s a great time to get the two together.”
Shafer coordinates the event with MU Extension 4-H youth development colleagues Dave Hileman of Franklin County and John Nickler of St. Charles County.
The annual 4-H visit to Busch Stadium is a great morale builder, publicity event and fundraiser wrapped into one, according to Shafer. It’s one of the biggest single groups the Cardinals entertain all season.
Fundraising comes in the form of a raffle. Parents buy chances for their kids to win items donated by the Cardinals, including autographed baseballs, box-seat ticket packages and other ticket prizes. Raffle-chance holders also could be selected to join pregame activities on the field such as attending batting practice, leading the 4-H pledge or throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
All raffle proceeds are split between the Missouri and Illinois 4-H contingents.
“Missouri applies its raffle proceeds to a college scholarship fund,” says Shafer. “Proceeds from the 12 past seasons have totaled more than $57,000.”
Connor Dittlinger, 16, of Benton in southeastern Missouri, won the privilege of throwing out the first pitch. The five-year veteran of 4-H leadership training wants to run a business someday: “4-H helps me prepare for my future.”
Dittlinger missed his duties as first baseman for his high school baseball team to perform his first-pitch assignment at Busch Stadium: “It was exciting…something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve probably been to 30 Cardinal games in my life, but I never got to experience that before.”
Shafer, Nickler and Hileman devote a lot of behind-the-scenes time and effort to ensure 4-H Day with the Cardinals runs smoothly.
“We like to think of it as a nice family outing,” says Hileman. “People see that the program is active and strong. It’s one of the best promotional events that we have for 4-H in the state.”