Baseball America is profiling the four finalists for the New Balance Game Changer Award, recognizing high school athletes who excel on the field and off, with an emphasis on community service. Eligible players entered an essay contest in which they outlined their achievements in baseball, in school and in their communities. Four finalists were selected, and the winner will be chosen by voting on Facebook, which begins on July 25. Finalists also made short videos about themselves, which you can view on the New Balance Baseball Facebook contest page. The winner will be announced at the Area Code Games on Aug. 7.
As Jakob Goldfarb touched home plate, he heard a familiar, ecstatic voice in the crowd.
"Mom," the young fan said. "I think he hit that for me!"
It was the first game of this spring's Arizona state high school playoffs—a do-or-die game for Desert Mountain High of Scottsdale—and Goldfarb had just homered to give his team some much-needed momentum. The game marked the beginning of a special postseason run for Goldfarb and his teammates, as they would eventually go on to win the first state championship in school history.
But this game was also special to Goldfarb because of that young fan in the crowd, a boy named Miles whom Goldfarb had grown close with in the past couple of years. Miles is a participant in the Miracle League of Arizona, an organization that allows individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities to play baseball. Goldfarb is Miles' "buddy." He aids him on the field, at the plate and on the basepaths—wherever he needs it.
This was the first time Miles had been able to see Goldfarb play outside of the Miracle League, and Goldfarb said he was thrilled that he was able to homer with Miles in the stands.
"It was a changing point in the game," Goldfarb said. "But when I heard him say that to his mom, it was the coolest thing because it was the first game that he was able to see me play, and I was able to put on a good show for him."
Goldfarb is one of four finalists for New Balance's Game Changer Award, which includes a $10,000 college scholarship and New Balance products donated to a charity of the recipient's choice. The award is designed to recognize high school players who make a difference on the field and in their community.
Much of Goldfarb's attention has been poured into the Miracle League, where he has volunteered since its inception a couple of years ago and where he has developed a strong relationship with Miles. He said that scheduling conflicts had kept Miles from coming to one of his games until this spring, so when he did come, Goldfarb made sure to give him a couple of T-shirts and a cap—along with a home run—to help him remember the experience.
"I think it's a friendship that really blossomed on the field and then extended to something beyond that, which is amazing," said Casie Switalski, director of operations at the Arizona Miracle League. "It's something we hope for with Miracle League . . . Jakob's kind of a unique case where you actually hear about and see how they go beyond just the game itself."
On the high school diamond, Desert Mountain coach Brian Stephenson said that Goldfarb hit better than .400 in the state tournament and could vie for player of the year honors in Arizona next year. A rising senior right fielder, Goldfarb has five legitimate tools, Stephenson said, and he batted .333 with five home runs, 20 RBI and nine stolen bases this spring.
Stephenson said Goldfarb also brings the right attitude to the ballpark.
"He's an awful talented kid, and he rubs off on the other guys with how hard he plays," he said. "He's outstanding in the classroom, and I always tell people, that when my son grows up, I'd want him to act like him. You wouldn't tell that he's a Division I player going to Oregon. I'm sure he'll get drafted next year."
Committed to play for the Ducks, Goldfarb said a scholarship from New Balance would be a huge help. In his Game Changer application essay, Goldfarb wrote that he has changed the game by playing it the right way, being a good teammate and volunteering with the Miracle League.
But the Miracle League and his experiences with Miles have also had a significant effect on him.
"If I ever start to doubt myself on the field, I just remember that I need to go out there and have fun," Goldfarb said. "Those kids are out there having fun no matter what's going on. And that's really what baseball is all about."