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Firefighters help replace kids’ baseball cards destroyed in Calif.'s largest wildfire

“Step Up To The Plate” is a campaign launched by CAL FIRE/Fresno County Fire to collect donations of baseball cards for kids affected by the Creek Fire


Carmen George
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. —The Creek Fire — the largest single wildfire in California history — has destroyed a lot of big things. In the rubble of 856 charred structures are small losses that feel big, too. Among them: Beloved baseball cards belonging to children who lost their homes to fire.

Firefighters are leading a campaign dubbed “Step Up To The Plate” to help restock those decks with baseball card donations.

“It’s nice of them to to think of that. ... The small things are just as important as the big things,” said Ty Gillett, owner of Cressman’s General Store that burned along with his family’s Pine Ridge home. He and his young son, Emmett Gillett, shared thousands of baseball cards together that are now gone.

Of the donation drive, 8-year-old Emmett said, “I want to say thank you. ... It would mean a lot because collecting cards is one of my favorite things to do.”

It’s also a favorite pastime for Reese Osterberg, 9, who played baseball with Emmett through the Mountain Community Recreation Foundation Sierra League before COVID-19 and wildfires hit.

“When she realized that our house had burnt down, the first thing she said was, ‘Mom, my baseball cards,’” recalled her mother, Amy Osterberg. “She loves baseball. She will watch baseball and she gets her baseball cards out and lines them up in front of the TV.”

Reese recently suffered another hard loss: The death of a best friend, her dog Paisley, who used to retrieve her baseball when she practiced hitting the ball. Reese set up her own home dugout that she shared with Paisley.

Reese wants to be a Major League Baseball player or a rodeo clown when she grows up, her mother said.

A Facebook post by Cal Fire/Fresno County Fire describes Reese as one of the best players in her league, a fierce competitor and natural lefty with a swing “as smooth as butter.”[0]=AZWcCY1dcSl2lK28DMZzWbvYiYeFbYdWpyE9lqpWWgXAzoF1wShYa6-FcoPRGPgWr9SvTmsYw4wyn7Clt6WYTXoPTnYucs9kSsMhk0FkpdhT-coA4RcHjGKdKZkmmOmETdNH54hKLBqQzjDKGfc2KqWb1RoTmImUCmoPsk0jSBKYf0K5veYu80OCtkMKTjvHAb8&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

“We can’t wait to see who will ‘step up to the plate’ and donate baseball cards to these fantastic children,” said Battalion Chief Seth Brown, spokesman for Cal Fire/Fresno County Fire.

He said the Fresno Grizzlies reached out Thursday, the day after the campaign began, wanting to help with it also.

Cal Fire/Fresno County Fire is leading the donation drive with support from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol. CHP Officer Justice Jones, a coach for several young players who lost homes to the Creek Fire, told fellow emergency responders about the burned baseball cards. A plan to get them back soon formed.

“With the destruction that we’ve seen up here,” Jones said, “it’s a welcome distraction to be able to not only lift the spirits of the kids that have been hurt, but the responders as well.”

Alvin Greene, a counselor for first responders, also helped get it going, Brown said. After hearing of the children’s burned cards, he reached into his desk drawer and handed over a stack of his own. “Here you go,” he said. “Start with these.”

Reese recently received a new card of Giants catcher Buster Posey. She’s mailing it and a baseball to Posey with a letter she wrote, asking if he’ll sign them.

She added “you don’t have to if you don’t want to” and “P.S. I’m glad you took time off to be a Dad. Love, Reese Osterberg.”

How to donate baseball cards

Brown said baseball cards can be dropped off at any Cal Fire/Fresno County fire station (different from the Fresno Fire Department, which are city fire stations).

Donated cards were initially just being mailed to the Shaver Lake Cal Fire station at 41640 Dinkey Creek Road, Shaver Lake, CA 93664.

“Include a note of encouragement if you would be so kind,” Brown said. “We will work with Reese and her friends (local volunteer firefighters) to distribute the cards to all of the kids affected by this tragedy. We need your help!”

Questions about donating can be emailed to Brown at

Donations will also be accepted at a " Halloween Spooktacular” event in downtown Auberry from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday. Some of the children who lost baseball cards in the Creek Fire are planning to attend.

“The way people are trying to bring some excitement,” Amy Osterberg said, “happiness to these kids has just been amazing. ... Just the kindness that people are showing to help put smiles on our kids.”


(c)2020 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)