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Originally published April 17, 2009 at 2:25 PM | Page modified April 20, 2009 at 9:26 AM

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Guest columnist

Economic stimulus: Local businesses in a league of their own

Despite the nation's financial crisis, Mark Cutshall, a board member of The Seattle Northwest Little League, found some Seattle businesses, facing their own economic challenges, who mustered their resources to make sure Seattle kids could play ball.

Special to The Times

IN this nervous hour of our current economy, my job of running the world's smallest public-relations firm has become risky business. Recently, two struggling clients called to say farewell. Shrinking budgets, they said. Yet, the lights are still on and my biggest account is, like an aspiring finalist on American Idol, safe for now.

With a little more time to spend, I joined the board of Seattle Northwest Little League, where my son has played for three rollicking seasons. They needed sponsors to renew their support for our 25 baseball and softball teams, so I raised my hand and said, "Yes." Yet, inside, I balked: Would these loyal, local businesses in Crown Hill and north Ballard balancing fewer sales against finite budgets really step up and write the checks?

My one-page letter fell several million media impressions shy of assuring them more customers and thus more revenue. Truth in advertising prevailed: "Your sponsorship," I wrote, "will make it possible for 300 children to play ball, have fun and make positive, lifetime memories."

A soft ask in a hardening economy. That's all our longtime sponsors needed to hear.

Brian McQueen, who owns Seattle Ski, thought about it and said, yes. So did Jeff Lane, from Lane Hardwood Floors.

Mike Erstad, who runs National Drycleaners down the street, said, "Sure, I think we can sponsor a team, again." Jimmy Wild, owner of Top Banana Produce, re-upped. Over the phone, Kevin Broderick, a busy local architect, dad and respected umpire, fired back just one word: "Absolutely."

Last year, Fischer Plumbing sponsored two teams. "We can do three this year," said Brent Miller on behalf of his father and business owner, Daryl. "Glad to help."

Ken Lane, my son's former coach, with the Masons St. John's Lodge No. 9, ignored my letter completely and dropped off a check for three teams, with additional funds for upgrading team uniforms. "I'm sorry, we're not able to do four teams, but as you know times are tight."

Granted, I struck out more than once. The deadline to order team caps arrived. Needing one last sponsor, it came down to a dreaded cold call to Patty's Egg Nest, a nearby restaurant. Chris Richardson, the manager, listened politely, liked the idea — and said yes. "And if you've got a raffle, I'll give you some gift certificates." I invited her to our league's Grand Slam Spaghetti Feed in May, where multiple raffles will be on the menu.

Not long ago, my jaw hit the floor after hearing the news that the Treasury and the Federal Reserve and AIG had refused to say where $173 billion U.S. government funds had gone. Of the original $700 billion federal bailout, at least we've got $135 billion left to play with.

The combined $350 donations from our local Little League sponsors may not be enough to save the economy. One thing I know for sure though is where our local dollars are going and the good they can do when put into the right hands:

At tonight's game, a child whom Chris, or Ken, or Brent has never met will put on a batting helmet, step up to the plate and, with a million butterflies swirling inside, he or she will put the bat on the ball and round the bases. When the throw eventually comes in and the tag is made, the bleachers will erupt as effort, heartbreak and joy collide at home plate.

After the snacks are gone and the last overstuffed minivan drives away, the goodness and memories of the game will remain.

Leave it to generous, local businesses and service groups to step up and invest in these and other priceless outcomes.

Mark Cutshall lives and roots for his son's team in Seattle.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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