A group of homeless men mulled playing another inning of softball this morning at Sonny Lawson Park. One man gestured to his nonexistent watch. Another joked, "My accountant can wait." So the game went on, thanks to the Homeless Diamond program created and sponsored by local real estate broker Joe Carabello, who organizes softball games on Tuesday mornings for Denver's homeless population.
Carabello, who plays senior league softball, thought of the idea during his daily commute.
"I work down here," he says. "I have roots down here. I grew up on Capitol Hill and I always ride my bike or drive my car down Park Avenue and see the ball field empty, and then see all the idle homeless standing around. It just inspired me to maybe give them a day a week to have some fun and just chill."
So he rented the field from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for five weeks, starting four weeks ago. Then he sent an e-mail to the managers of the sixty-plus teams in the Colorado Senior Softball Association -- he's on the board of directors -- and asked them to donate any balls, bats or gloves they had laying around. These gifts cover equipment needs, while Carabello provides lunch and drinks unless others donate -- which they have twice so far.
But while the program is funded through next week, there are no guarantees beyond then.
"The response has been good and they do have a good time," Carabello says. "So I would really hate to get this all ramped up and stirred up and then say, 'We're gone.' We might take the Fourth of July week off, and when we come back, do two weeks a month for the rest of the summer."
The Denver Rescue Mission and the St. Francis Center helped recruit a large number of the participants. Carabello also walks around the neighborhood surrounding Sonny Lawson Park and hands out softballs with the time, day and location of the games written on them.
Last week's game brought out twenty players, the most to date. Some participants have shown up for all four weeks. Others come from the sobriety program at the Denver Rescue Mission, which requires a thirty-day commitment to stay on site.
"This is like recess time for them," says Carabello. "They're very excited about getting out here. They have a good time. We haven't had any issues and we had no idea what to expect in that regard. We're dealing with people who have issues -- that's why they're on the street. But there have been no problems on the ball field and actually a little camaraderie."
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The field is full of typical softball chatter and playful trash talking. One player today made a habit of talking on his cell phone while running the bases.
"Will it make a difference in anybody's life?" asks Carabello. "Probably not. But it gives them a break for a morning each week. Maybe it will re-energize them or somehow have a positive bearing on their life. We're not too concerned with that. We're just here to put the program on and hope people show up to play."
For more information or to contribute to the program call 303-525-0962.
Scroll down for photos from today's game. More from our Things to Do archive: "Homeless youth: Photo exhibit on display tonight shows their world, through their eyes."