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Foundation for scouts has made a difference

January 17, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

In those first terrible days, amid all the hugs and tears, all the flowers and casseroles, the telephone rang yet again.

This was not another condolence call, a relative or friend comforting Prairie Wilson after her husband, Brian, died of a heart attack at 33. This was a bank official, calling to let her know $20,000 had just shown up in the memorial fund established to support her and the three young girls her husband left behind.

Brian Wilson worked as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The mystery donor: the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

"I had never heard of them before," Prairie Wilson said. "They never even called. They did that completely on their own."

The foundation, established to help scouts and their families in times of need, celebrates its fifth anniversary Saturday with a gala fundraising dinner and silent auction at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.

Dennis Gilbert, the former agent and current Chicago White Sox executive who established the foundation, said it has distributed about $300,000 in grants, covering such costs as funerals, emergency medical expenses and rent payments and insurance coverage for unemployed scouts.

Without such assistance, Gilbert said, a life crisis can send a scout spiraling toward poverty.

"We heard of a guy who sold his World Series rings to make mortgage payments," Gilbert said.

Commissioner Bud Selig attended the fundraiser for the first time last year and plans to return for Saturday's event.

"Dennis has done a wonderful job," Selig said.

The 30 major league clubs support the foundation by buying tickets and donating memorabilia for the annual fundraiser, but Major League Baseball provides no financial support, even as the sport generates $6 billion in annual revenue.

Selig said he would like to bring the foundation under the MLB umbrella by folding it into the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), an MLB-supported charity that helps players and others in baseball in times of need. Players, managers and coaches pledged $1.2 million to BAT last season, and the charity has awarded more than $15 million in grants over two decades, according to the MLB website.

"If we merge these organizations, we can help more people," Selig said.

Gilbert said he is discussing a merger with MLB officials but has made no decision.

To Prairie Wilson, the scouts' foundation was a godsend. After her husband died, she said, she got some financial assistance from the Reds and from BAT but "by far" the most from the foundation. She deposited the $20,000 into the college fund for the couple's three daughters.

"It has totally made a difference in the future of our girls," Wilson said. "A simple thank you is not enough."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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THE FACTS

Professional Baseball Scouts

Foundation gala

Who: Featuring Hall of Famers

Tony Gwynn and Dave Winfield.

When, where: Saturday at the

Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.

Information: (310) 749-8494.

Public is invited.

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