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A Home Run for Veterans HEAT Factory

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Everyone deserves a second chance in life and Ray Negron is the epitome of someone’s life who was turned around because of a second chance. On March 18th you’ll not only have the opportunity to see a musical stage production based on his amazing accomplishments but also meet Ray in person. And it’s all to benefit the Veterans’ HEAT Factory, a local non-profit organization that works with veterans and first responders struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress. All their services, among which are one-on-one psychological counseling, job preparation training, use of exercise equipment, stress management and art therapy, are free of charge to the participants and their families.

The play is entitled “Batboy Returns” and relates how Negron, as a teenager, was caught and arrested for spray painting graffiti on a wall at Yankee Stadium in 1973. George Steinbrenner, who had just bought the Yankees, went to the jail. He took Ray out of the holding cell, brought him to his office and read him the “riot act.” Steinbrenner then gave him a Yankee uniform and made him a batboy.

Ever since, for the past fifty years, Negron has worked for the Yankees in various capacities, such as a community consultant visiting schools and hospitals. He has inspired hundreds of underprivileged children to play baseball and stay off the streets. Many of them have gone on to become professional baseball players. Ray is also a film producer, author of five best-selling books, a philanthropist and has been recognized internationally for his humanitarian work.

Steve Vaccaro, producer, co-writer and director of “Batboy Returns,” speaks enthusiastically about meeting Negron for the first time ten years ago when he went to one of Negron’s book signings. Despite no experience as a producer, he agreed to team up with Negron in putting into reality his dream of this play.

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Since that time, they have done many sold out shows up and down the East coast in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and other states. The actors and crew don’t get paid and all proceeds of the performances go to various causes. These include mental health, domestic violence and homelessness. This year is special because Negron is celebrating his 50th year in baseball.

“It’s the ultimate story of second chances. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not you can enjoy it. There’s also some great music in the play. It takes you back to the 1970s and the music of that era. People who have New York roots will enjoy the play also,” Vaccaro remarks.

Besides the play, there will be video footage and Negron will be there to narrate throughout the performance. A host of baseball celebrities and sports figures will be in attendance.

Billy Martin, Jr., a baseball agent and son of the famous Yankee Manager Billy Martin, will be appearing. A special guest will be Orestes Destrade, a former major league baseball player who is now a broadcaster for the Tampa Bay Rays. Brooksville’s own Bronson Orroyo, a former pitcher in the major leagues, will also be at the show.

There will be a question and answer period with the celebrities after the performance. Since it’s Spring Training now, a few surprise guests from the major leagues may show up. A number of musicians will be there, as well. A highlight of the evening will be the announcement of the winners in an essay contest featuring essays that fourth graders have written on the subject “Why it’s important to honor veterans.”

Vaccaro states, “This is a family-oriented show that tells how Ray has had a life of giving second chances to everyone. The legacy he wants to leave behind is his community work. He’s been able to be in the right place at the right time to help others in need.”

“Batboy Returns” will be performed on Saturday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Springstead High School Theatre, 3300 Mariner Blvd. Tickets are just $10 for adults and children. They can be purchased by calling 352-251-7015 or at www.veteransheatfactory.com Click on the tab at the top marked “Tickets.” 100% of the ticket sales will go to Veterans HEAT Factory. If you can’t attend, please consider a donation.

(L-R) Ray Negron, Steve Vaccaro. Photo courtesy of Steve Vaccaro.

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