It’s rare for Ballpark Digest to present a national award twice in three years to the same minor-league baseball franchise.
In this case, the publisher of the industry’s leading website views the way the Quad-Cities River Bandits organization connects with the community through its charitable programs as a rarity.
"This club is unique in both the size of their charity programs and what they deliver," Kevin Reichard said Wednesday after presenting River Bandits owners Dave Heller and Roby Smith with two national awards.
"The River Bandits are giving their charities what they need most — cash — and they are doing so in a sustainable fashion. That’s very commendable, and it separates them from their peers."
The Quad-Cities’ Midwest League franchise was honored for having the best charitable program in all of minor-league baseball for the second time in three years, and the club was also honored for having the best ballpark improvement with a price tag of less than $1 million.
A committee selected the River Bandits as the winner from more than 100 nominations in each category, although in some respects the honors are connected.
The ballpark improvement honor was presented for the latest amusement attractions added at Modern Woodmen Park, all of which contribute dollars to the River Bandits’ charitable programs.
Reichard presented the trophies during a news conference at Modern Woodmen Park, where he and the Bandits' owners were joined by Davenport mayor Frank Klipsch, Genesis Health System chief marketing officer Ken Croken and Bechtel Trust chairman Richard Bittner.
"There are so many examples of how this organization connects with the community," Klipsch said.
Croken and Bittner represent organizations that will receive combined donations of more than $150,000 this year while partnering with the River Bandits.
Proceeds from the new Genesis Kidz Koaster and a portion of every ticket sold for the Ferris wheel at Modern Woodmen Park have raised $100,000 in 2017 for the Genesis Foundation, helping fund Flu-Free Quad-Cities, neo-natal care and Camp Genesis programs.
All proceeds from rides on the double-decker carousel and other nearby attractions opened this year raised $53,000 that, through a program with the Bechtel Trust, will be donated to programs serving needy youths in the Quad-Cities.
Reichard said the Bandit Scholars program, which awards one-year full-tuition college scholarships to four Quad-City area students, is in itself unique.
"There are other clubs which present scholarships, but nothing on the scale of what the River Bandits are doing on an annual basis," he said. "The scholarship program may get overshadowed a bit, but it is an important part of all of this."
Heller said the success of the club’s charitable endeavors, including $25,000 raised during three late-season home games by the Astros-affiliated River Bandits to assist in flood-relief efforts in Houston, are a credit to the support of the Quad-Cities community and the work of the club’s front-office staff.
"One of the things we’ve always tried to do is give back to the community, and the park within a park concept is helping us make that a reality," Heller said.
"Taking proceeds from every ride and giving it all away, it’s a unique funding model, but it’s helping us help the Quad-Cities, and we take a great deal of pride in that."