Somehow, Bob Salomon -- a 46-year-old state worker from New Jersey -- has assembled an inner circle of pro ballplayers and athletes, a group that's helped him as much as he's supported them.
It took nine months before they'd listen to him. Now he's the one taking their calls.
"Seconds after speaking with Bob, I knew his intentions were good and his mission mirrored mine, which is to have an impact on kids through the game of baseball," retired Royals star Mike Sweeney said. "I immediately said, 'Hey, I'm all in, and I'll team up with you in any way I can.'"
The mission for Salomon starts and ends with a benevolent cause. In 2008, he teamed up with authors to create a "A Glove of Their Own," an illustrated children's book. The story centers around underprivileged kids who play baseball with the help of a donation of a bag of equipment from an old coach. They take that kindness and determine when they grow up, no child should go without a glove -- that they should pay it forward. What started out as a book, Salomon hopes will continue as a full-fledged movement surrounding that idea for the benefit of children.
Here's how it's been put into practice: Some proceeds from the book go to charitable organizations to help get sporting equipment for youths. Three dollars from every purchase can also be donated to a nonprofit of choice -- like Sweeney's foundation or Joe Torre's Safe At Home Foundation, Mattingly Charities or Yogi Berra's Museum and Learning Center.
"An awesome project, and I've tried to help them any way I can," the Pirates' Jason Grilli said. "Just helping kids out, what's behind the project, the story, is pretty incredible.
"If opportunity comes about, I can read the book to younger kids, in school or a similar setting. [Salomon is] trying to just slowly spread the word -- the drip effect -- and I think it's one of those things people can really stand behind -- a great way to open up some doors, so I'm thrilled to be attached to it."
The book was published by Franklin Mason Press and won the Benjamin Franklin Award for best children's picture book in 2009. That award's given out by the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Still, it took some time before the book made its way into the hands of ballplayers. That required a lot of cold calling and a lot of non-responses, if not negative responses. Slowly, the circle's grown: Don Mattingly, Jim Eisenreich and Tommy John are in, as are Eric Chavez, Doug Glanville and dozens more, Salomon said. Businesses have thrown their support behind the idea as well.
"Bob, he gets it. The book is beautiful," Sweeney said. "I have four copies in my house, and I have so many people that have said, 'Oh, we've gotten this book for our dads for Father's Day.' ... It's pure, it's innocent and you walk away, the book just puts a smile on your face, because everyone can remember playing catch with their dad in the sandlot. Or a mentor that had an impact on them through baseball, whether it be a coach or a teacher or a father."
The difference, Salomon believes, between him and the many others who reach out to athletes is that he did so without looking to gain for himself.
Sweeney is spending his post-playing days in a similarly selfless way. Besides broadcasting for MLB Network, he runs Catholic baseball camps and the foundation that takes his and his wife's name.
"Sweeney, I didn't know who he was, he contacted me," Salomon said. "It's pure passion and creating friendships, and the key thing is not having an agenda. I'm different -- a lot of times people want something from the athletes. I didn't want anything from them except joining me in helping kids, so they picked up on that. It was pure."
A father of two himself, Salomon has been involved in youth sports, but the idea for the book wasn't something he had harbored for years before finally acting on it.
"A friend of mine said, 'Bob, you got to see these words, I know you love baseball, I know you love kids,'" Salomon said of the first time he was introduced to the project. "And when I read these words, I said, 'Oh my gosh.'"
Salomon would like to make paying it forward his life's work. He has another children's book about football, "Beyond the Laces," targeted to come out around the start of the NFL season. The idea, once again, is to help youths.
"I have a lot of faith," Salomon said. "It's what I'm going to do the rest of my life, and probably my kids too, if I do this right. I would love to pass this down to my children. And it's not just me, it's the network of good people. I want them to also continue to pass it to their families, pay it forward."