CLINE: Toys for Tots toy drive moves to Coolray Field



When he drives by Coolray Field, Doug Reid can’t help but be excited as he reads the message board that fronts the Gwinnett Braves’ stadium. Among other things, the sign touts Reid’s annual Toys for Tots toy drive that will be held Dec. 9-11. It’s the 13th year the Lawrenceville resident has conducted the drive, but the first he’s had a partner like the Class AAA Braves.

"It's something that we're really excited about, and it does take us to another level," said Reid, who owns and runs Venture Sports Shows. "It adds a whole new dimension. You can see the recognition on people's faces when you tell them where it's at. It's like playing in the big leagues for us. It makes it real exciting for everyone involved. And it should help us bring in more toys, and that's the bottom line."

Reid's company sells sports autographs and memorabilia (mostly online) and also has branched out into promoting charity golf events and charity auctions. His toy drives supporting the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program have always revolved around autographs and athletes willing to give their time for the cause -- one donated toy netting one autograph. This year is no different, with participants asked to bring unwrapped toys valued at $10 or more.

The drives and corresponding card shows have been successful -- Reid is No. 2 in the state among private individuals colecting for Toys for Tots -- but he hopes the new venue will add to it, helping that many more children enjoy Christmas.

"(Partnering with the G-Braves) has given us some exposure we haven't had before," Reid said. "It's all new and exciting and should translate into a big, big toy donation."

Last year Reid collected about 35,000 toys valued at about $350,000, which was "off just a bit" from previous years. Thanks to longtime supporters like former Brave and Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro, Reid hopes that number will climb this year. Former Brave Otis Nixon is also expected to sign as are former Atlanta Falcon William Andrews and former Brave Zane Smith. The athletes will sign in the suites located at Coolray Field, with exhibitors selling memorabilia located in both the Home Plate Club lounge and the lobby area near the suites.

In addition to veterans like Niekro, there will be up-and-comers signing like Brandon Jacobs, a Parkview High grad who is a major prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization. Lindsey Harding of the Atlanta Dream WNBA team will also be on hand. For a full signing schedule, go to Reid's website -- www.vssgolf.com.

The toy drive will run Friday through Sunday, coinciding with the G-Braves Winter Fest event on Saturday, Dec. 10. The G-Braves will offer ballpark tours and inflatables for the kids to play on as well as a one-day-only sale in the Team Store. All regularly priced items will be 50 percent off from noon to 6 p.m., with an 11 a.m. opening for season ticket holders. The G-Braves are also offering a holiday special of a four-pack of anytime tickets for $30 that will expire Dec. 23.

Teaming up for the sports-themed weekend makes sense for the G-Braves as well as Reid.

"One of our objectives is to make Coolray Field more accessible for everyone in our community," said G-Braves general manager North Johnson. "Toys for Tots is an incredibly worthy cause and with 13 years experience of hosting this toy drive, Venture Sports Shows is a quality organization that we are excited to partner with. We're looking forward to the event."

This is one of those events that should be a no-brainer -- a good cause that's also a good time. You can donate toys and also shop for gifts at the card show or the G-Braves Team Store. Throw in the fact that it's held at a great venue, and next week's toy drive is one that should be hard for a sports fan to pass up.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.