Bob Ryan

The ABCD cause is one to champion

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / February 27, 2011

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What does it say about the mentality of our elected leaders when they demonstrate a complete abandonment of compassion and common sense in pursuit of their own narrow agenda?

The aggressive Tea Party types so dominate the dialogue as Congress wrestles with its new budget that even a president whose background includes direct involvement with society at its core is so cowed by the shrill voices demanding endless cutbacks that he submits a budget calling for a 50 percent reduction in block grants that are the foundation of agencies such as our own Action for Boston Community Development. Fifty percent, of course, is better than outright elimination of such grants, which is what the Republicans wish.

In other words, it’s quite all right with these heartless politicians if ABCD must cut back on aid to impoverished people in areas such as fuel assistance, housing, the ability to earn a GED, and various job training programs. Oh, and you might have heard of an agency called Head Start? That would be another casualty.

Make no mistake: This is the most severe crisis ABCD has faced in its 40 years of glorious service to the city of Boston.

We all understand that America is in a budget crisis. What some of us do not understand is why the callous Republicans are so willing to sacrifice the interests of the most vulnerable members of our society, even as they fight to the death any proposal to make the super rich experience a tax pinch that might actually make one or two of them say “ouch.’’ Just this week we were treated to a USA Today front page headline informing us that spending on luxury items was up. Nice to know.

In case you were wondering, gutting ABCD and destroying the lives of its 94,000 clients will not in and of itself put us on the road to fiscal health. But it will sure make the Republicans feel good, knowing they found a few more dollars to save in their beloved austerity budget.

What does this have to do with sport?

Well, sport has helped ABCD before, and now sport may have to come up with its biggest service yet to ABCD. At an as-yet undetermined date, ABCD and the Red Sox will team up for the 14th annual “Field of Dreams,’’ a daylong celebration of softball in which local corporations pay $15,000 each to field teams to play softball at Fenway Park while the team is out of town.

The way-too-much-maligned John Harrington was the Red Sox CEO who signed off on this venture at a time when the field was sacrosanct and anyone other than authorized personnel stepping onto the hallowed Fenway turf was risking incarceration. But Harrington believed in ABCD and its mission, and he knew he could deal with the wrath of legendary groundskeeper Joe Mooney.

Larry Lucchino has carried on this tradition. We all like to kid the current regime for being endlessly resourceful in terms of generating revenue, but let the record show that when it comes to “Field of Dreams,’’ there is no financial benefit for them. It is no small undertaking to run hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators through the premises from dawn to dusk. But Lucchino, like Harrington, understands the vital role played by ABCD in this community.

Thanks to the largess of the Red Sox, ABCD has raised in excess of $2 million thus far through “Field of Dreams.’’

The ABCD folks have found that some years it is more difficult to attract corporate participation than in others. In light of the proposed budget cuts, one would hope that there would be a list of entries stretching from Fenway to Provincetown.

Some snow may still be on the ground, but it’s not too early to start thinking about stepping up to the plate at Fenway on a sunny June day, hearing your name announced on the PA, and seeing your name on the center-field screen. That in itself is priceless. I don’t know what the next level of satisfaction is when you know you’re doing it for a cause as good as ABCD.

I’m pleased to announce that TD Garden is getting into the spirit of things. TD Garden president John Wentzell is exhibiting the same social conscience as Messrs. Harrington and Lucchino. With Doc Rivers at his side, he will turn over the Garden for “Hoop Dreams,’’ in which corporations can assemble basketball squads to play on the parquet. Date and details to come.

As proof that these Tea Party types have their priorities a bit skewed, consider the recent brouhaha when Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) proposed an amendment that would have prevented the Pentagon from using taxpayer dollars to sponsor cars driven by the likes of NASCAR celebs Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman, the pretext being that said sponsorship is good armed service recruiting (a highly debatable premise). The sum involved is a little more than $29 million, which is not a huge sum in the big scheme of things but could have a profound positive impact on an agency such as ABCD.

Two things happened. 1. McCollum was introduced to the Real World, as seen from the eyes of NASCAR and its supporters. She’s still reeling. 2. The amendment was voted down, 281-148. That’s America, 2011.

ABCD CEO John Drew has engaged in a vigorous lobbying effort with the preponderance of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, urging President Obama to restore the block grant cuts to the budget (the notable exception being Sen. Scott Brown, who should be thoroughly ashamed of himself).

But these are evil times when a president with Barack Obama’s background must be reminded what life is like for those at the lowest rung of so-called society. Surely there is some other place in the budget to cut that doesn’t involve trampling on people who are in desperate need of help.

Over the course of four decades, ABCD has been an example of America at its best. What’s happening to ABCD now is an example of America at its worst.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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