At first light on a crisp New Year’s Day in 2015, Major League Baseball (MLB) legend Bob Didier shared his vision with Willmeng President James Murphy of a Baseball Hot Stove event that would benefit the kids that call Sunshine Acres home. Sunshine Acres is a Mesa-based nonprofit that provides a loving, wholesome, Christian home for children who are separated from their parents.
Murphy recalls Didier saying that he, “gets emotional just thinking about the kids at Sunshine Acres.” Knowing that every adult and child alike has questions about their favorite teams, Didier wanted to host an open discussion with past and current major leaguers, offering a unique opportunity to talk baseball and hear stories from the sport’s greatest athletes and coaches.
“Using my career to benefit the community is the right things to do,” said Didier. “People will ask how their team is looking, if Pete Rose will ever get into the hall, anything. It will be an open mic for all things baseball.”
Just three months later in the spring of 2015, the first annual Baseball Hot Stove became a reality via Didier’s tenacity and connections. Willmeng’s Vice President of Sales and Pre-lease Estimating, Tom Jarvis, was the emcee for the inaugural event. Murphy and Willmeng employees were proudly becoming the hot stove’s first corporate supporters by bidding on memorabilia and spending evening hours supporting the effort.
In 2016, the talented artist, Randall Hedden, created live paintings of players on the hot stove panel. That year, Murphy took home an oil painting of Bill Buckner, who had an amazing 22-year career with the MLB, a batting title and a reputation as one of the best pure competitors that the game of baseball has ever seen.
Buckner graciously allowed other paintings to be created on demand including paintings that memorialized his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. “I have always had a heart for the community and specifically the kids – future major leaguers,” said Buckner. “There is no place else that I would rather be tonight.”
Hedden returned in 2017 to live speed paint the Arizona Diamondback, A.J. Pollock. Corky Richardson and his wife Cindi, purchased the paining of Pollock via auction, and then proceeded to donate it back to the event, allowing it to be auctioned again to further benefit the cause.
“At the recent event, aspiring Sunshine Acres sluggers received live batting instruction from Buckner and Pollock, and the audience hung on every word,” said Murphy.
Since inception three years ago, the event has grown. The panel regularly boasts baseball greats, such as:
- Bill Buckner, former Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals first baseman.
- Bob Didier, former Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees coach
- Mel Didier, Special Advisor to the Toronto Blue Jays
- John Hiller, former Detroit Tiger and AWCC Member
- Jack Howell, former Los Angeles Angels third baseman
- Albie Lopez, former Cleveland Indians & Arizona Diamondbacks player
- Greg Minton, former New York Giants pitcher
- Mel Stottlemyre Jr., pitching coach for Seattle Mariners, formerly Arizona Diamondbacks
- Tim Unroe, former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman
“It has been amazing to see Bob’s vision and concept grow the way that it has,” said Murphy. “He has a heart of gold and personally sees to it that every single penny raised is delivered to Carol in support of the kids of Sunshine Acres.”
The next Baseball Hot Stove is scheduled for the spring of 2018, and the Willmeng team looks forward to supporting Bob Didier’s Baseball Hot Stove once again.