Lt. Frank Brim of the Chicago Fire Department knows how to put out fires in his West Side neighborhood.

But, since 2008, this community-minded, 57-year-old father of three has been sparking a few fires as the president of the non-profit Garfield Park Little League/Hardball program in the communities of Austin, Garfield Park and West Lawndale. These are the kind of fires that burn in the bellies of boys and girls, age 5 to 18 who discover a love for the game of baseball.

The aim here, says Brim, is to stand firm in his all-volunteer commitment to improving the level of play of every child who desires to play Little League baseball, while fostering healthy relationships with them, and within the communities which the nonprofit serves.

“As a first responder, I have seen my share of kids on the street with bullet holes in them. When I am standing over those bodies, and hearing the outcry of the community saying we have to do something, in that moment it’s too late,” says Brim. “I grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes and I saw a lot of my friends making bad decisions. Baseball was the one thing that captivated me, that caught my attention and was engaging enough for me to realize that there was so much more I could do with myself.”

Over the last 31 years, Brim has been a volunteer youth baseball coach on the West Side. He believes that his all-volunteer youth baseball program is pivotal in putting kids age 5 through 7 on the right path.

“We didn’t have any stencil outline of what an individual should grow up to become,” says Calvin Track, a boy who says he became a successful man because of Brim’s baseball program. “We saw it, and we just did what we saw. And, for myself, that was school and baseball.”

For Brim, it began with a conversation among friends.

“We jumped out there, and the first year we had 150 kids who came out of nowhere,” says Brim, “So, these kids were hungry to play the game.”

Over the years, hundreds of kids joined the league’s roster, thanks to the ongoing financial support from private donors, as well as corporate funders, including the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs organizations.

“The goal of GPLL is to make a difference in the lives of the Garfield Park, Austin and North Lawndale youth. With the help of donations from supporters we will continue to see improvements in the lives of our children,” says Brim. “We are just trying to instill a love of baseball in kids and keep them off the corners.”

Meanwhile, every Tuesday and Thursday after school, practices for Fall Ball is at 3700 W. Jackson in Garfield Park.

“When you come to the park on Saturday morning, it’s the most peaceful place on the West Side of Chicago,” says Brim. “I am so proud of that. It’s not the games, the wins. It’s because we created an environment, and we expect that calmness to extend out beyond this park, and back into the communities where our kids live.”

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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