Baseball player helps a breast cancer cause in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by CARLY SZEMEREY

Sam Kaplan wearing "Swing for Life" jersey for the breast cancer awareness game.

Ever since Sam Kaplan can remember, he has been doing two things — playing baseball and helping others.

While growing up in Cottonwood Heights, a suburb of Salt Lake City, Kaplan’s parents, Neil and Kitty, taught him that service is a small meaningful act that goes a long way.

Because of this lesson Kaplan, now 19 and a University of Utah student, has donated his time to many efforts in hopes of bettering other people’s lives. He has raked yards, served food to the homeless and worked at the Utah Food Bank to sort food for the homeless and those in need.

He remembers one specific moment of volunteer work that touched him deeply. While he and his father were delivering food they came upon a Sudanese household. Once they had knocked at the door to deliver the packaged food, they were invited in the home. The family fed Kaplan and his father all of the food they had to offer. “It was really touching and nice of them,” Kaplan said.

When Kaplan was not volunteering his time helping others, he enjoyed playing centerfield for Cottonwood High School’s baseball team. Baseball has been a big part of Kaplan’s life for many years. His parents had enrolled him in T-Ball when he was just 3 years old and he has stuck with it ever since.

Kaplan has placed his focus on being the best player he can be. “I worked hard every single day of my life,” Kaplan said. “I didn’t take a day off ever.”

With this hard work and dedication Kaplan received multiple awards throughout his high school baseball career. Some of these awards included an All-State award his senior year and the All-Region award two years in a row.

“Sam was a great player who is an extremely hard-working kid,” said Jon Hoover, Kaplan’s baseball coach at Cottonwood High School.

Given Kaplan’s commitment to volunteerism and baseball, few were surprised when he brought up the idea of a breast cancer awareness game to raise money for research.

“[The idea of the game] just hit me one day,” Kaplan said. “I just wanted to help out a cause and raise money.”

In early spring 2010 many things happened. Kaplan had suggested to his coach and teammates the idea of a baseball game targeted at raising funds for breast cancer, the game was played to raise funds and  a longtime family friend, Toba Essig, was diagnosed with breast cancer. This diagnosis pushed Kaplan to make sure that this game happened and really became a driving force of the whole plan.

With the knowledge of a Cottonwood vs. Brighton baseball game coming up, Kaplan felt this was the perfect opportunity to implement his plan.

Essig’s son, Brian, played on Brighton’s team so Kaplan contacted Brian and asked if he would be willing to help him out with this cause.

Brian agreed so Kaplan approached his coach about the game.

“When Sam approached me about making our game against Brighton a breast cancer awareness game I thought it was a really good idea,” Hoover said. “Out of everyone I’m not surprised it was Sam to do this.”

"Swing For Life" designed the logo for jerseys to be worn in the game.

After speaking to his coach Kaplan began contacting different breast cancer organizations such as the Huntsman Cancer Institute and “Swing for Life” — a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to raising money in breast cancer research — to see if they would be willing to set up booths at the game.

His focus became more targeted when speaking with Kathy Howa, from “Swing for Life,” and Brighton’s baseball.

“Howa was really helpful,” Kaplan said. She helped plan the event and supplied the teams playing with pink and black jerseys to wear.

After all the planning the breast cancer game was ready to begin. On April 3, 2010, many people attended the game to support a cause.

Parents of the kids from Cottonwood’s baseball team took shifts in the goody shack — the snack shack at Cottonwood’s baseball field. All the proceeds raised during the game at the shack were donated to “Swing for Life.”

In addition, the players’ black jerseys were auctioned off to the highest bidders at the end of the game. This money was also given to the organization.

Kaplan and his supporters were able to raise more than $1,000 to be donated to breast cancer research.

“This game was one of my prouder moments and I’m so glad that I was able to help out,” Kaplan said. “I just hope that I am able to continue both of my passions and hopefully combine them together once again in hopes of making a difference.”

Following Kaplan’s graduation in 2010 he moved to Forest Grove, Ore., to play college baseball for Pacific University. After his freshman year he moved back to Salt Lake to get surgery on his shoulder in August 2011. Now a student at the U he hopes to continue playing baseball again after his shoulder has healed and he has completed the necessary rehabilitation.