Bruhl pitching in to foster baseball in impoverished nations
Northbrook chiropractor Warren Bruhl (center) poses for a photo in Kimana, Kenya, after distributing the baseball mitts developed by Rich Synek, founder of the Glenbrook Sports Academy, a baseball teaching facility in Northbrook. | Submitted photo
- VIDEO: Children receive new baseball mitts in Dominican Republic
- VIDEO: Children playing with new mitts in Dominican Republic
- VIDEO: Gear for Goals brings baseball to Kenyan children
Updated: February 11, 2013 7:14AM
Warren Bruhl was on a mission.
It was September of 2011, and Bruhl, a chiropractor from Northbrook, was in the Dominican Republic volunteering his time with a group offering health care to the needy in that Caribbean country. While there, he noticed that the children were playing a sort of baseball, using rolled up socks for a ball and sticks for bats.
He decided that on his next trip down, he was going to bring sports equipment. He had a garage full of the stuff from the years he spent as a baseball coach for his son’s teams, and he figured the children in the Dominican Republic could use the sporting goods.
Bruhl’s next trip was with ChiroMission, a group of chiropractors who volunteer to provide needed health care to the impoverished people of the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Todd Herold, a New York chiropractor and co-founder of ChiroMission, urged the doctors traveling with him to “fill up suitcases with whatever you can, whether it is school supplies or toys or clothing. No matter where you go there, somebody needs it.”
Herold said Bruhl’s donation of baseball equipment was spectacular.
“If you would have seen the look on the children’s faces, it was worth a million bucks,” Herold said. “They were so thrilled. They were out on the field and playing right away.”
With such a scene as an impetus, Bruhl has created his own organization, called Gear for Goals, to send donated sports equipment to the Dominican Republic. He hopes to extend the reach of Gear for Goals to African nations such as Kenya, where he visited in 2012 because his mother works there as a missionary.
The question for Bruhl is, for children in a country in need of just about everything, why sports equipment?
“Children don’t have a lot of activities to do,” Bruhl said. “Sports equipment gives them something recreational and fun to do. The second thing is sports equipment gives them an opportunity to excel at something that might take them out of poverty.”
Bruhl points out that the Dominican Republic supplies Major League Baseball with a large number of players these days. The country is dotted with baseball academies sponsored by MLB teams, but children in the poorer areas of the country don’t have the wherewithal to even start playing the sport, much less excel.
Bruhl has contacted numerous friends with whom he has coached in the past in order to get donated baseball equipment. The Chicago Cubs have provided some equipment, but the best connection turned out to be Rich Synek, founder of the Glenbrook Sports Academy, a baseball teaching facility in Northbrook.
In the late 1990s, Synek invented a deep-pocket baseball mitt made of molded plastic as a starter glove for children. The product never took off, but he had 1,500 of the mitts in a warehouse and gave them to Bruhl. Bruhl then took those mitts to the Dominican Republic and Kenya, and it turned out to be a perfect mitt for children who had never played the game before.
Synek is not the only area resident helping Bruhl with Gear for Goals.
Dan Nieman is a police officer in Des Plaines who joined his wife on the same ChiroMission to the Dominican Republic that Bruhl went on. Like Bruhl, Nieman is a father of a baseball player, and when he saw how the children of the Dominican Republic were affected by Bruhl’s contribution of sports equipment, he decided he, too, had to help Gear for Goals.
“That first night changed my life,” Nieman said. “I told Dr. Bruhl ‘You let me know what you need. I have contacts from high school. I will get people to donate. We can go to baseball academics, baseball leagues, continue and expand things he has already been doing.’ ”
Dave Lubunski, who works in real estate in Northbrook, went to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2012 traveling with Caliendo Sports International, a baseball organization from Schaumburg, and took sports equipment with him. He is now working with Bruhl, who he knows through Northbrook baseball connections, to collect items for Gear for Goals.
“You see a huge smile in their faces and a twinkle in their eye when you present them with the equipment,” Lubunski said. “It is a great feeling, kind of like when you give your kids Christmas presents.”
Bruhl is now in the paperwork phase of his plan to expand Gear for Goals. Bruhl has applied for 501c(3) not-for-profit status for a charitable organization he leads called Dreamweavers International, which promotes health care and humanitarian work in Kenya, and he hopes to run Gear for Goals under the Dreamweavers umbrella.
Because of the Dominican Republic’s lengthy tradition of baseball excellence, setting up a transfer of equipment to the needy children in that country has proved relatively easy. Through Caliendo Sports International, Bruhl already has contacts to whom he can send equipment if he is not personally taking a trip there.
The Kenya situation is different. There are tariffs and taxes and political hurdles. But Bruhl is determined to complete the task there as well.
“Our ultimate goal is to find some financial support that will help us to be able to ship things on a monthly basis, to the Dominican and to Kenya, and to expand into the inner city of Chicago as well, and possibly Mexico,” Bruhl said.