STAFFORD, Va. — Former Oakland A's and Milwaukee Brewers’ all-star third baseman Sal Bando might have retired as a player in 1981, but he's still hitting home runs with his pro-life work.

Bando and 90 other former and current baseball players, managers, coaches and executives recently endorsed Battin’ 1000, a new pro-life educational fund-raising venture by the Stafford, Va.-based American Life League.

Through 30 regional teams, the initiative hopes to raise $1 million during the 2003 baseball season to support the league's Campus for Life project.

American Life League's proposed Campus for Life, expected to be open in three years, will be an educational center offering pro-life media training, bioethics workshops, resources and transferable for-credit coursework. The group has already purchased the land for the campus and is currently going through the zoning process.

The Battin’ 1000 initiative hopes to promote a culture of life through the endorsements and engagement of major league personalities. Those who have joined the effort so far include six Hall of Fame players, including Tommy Lasorda, Robin Yount, Sparky Anderson, Jim Bunning and Gary Carter; 25 all stars; current players such as St. Louis’ Woody Williams; executives such as Arizona Diamondbacks chief executive officer Jerry Colangelo; managers such as Lou Piniella of Tampa Bay and Bob Boone of Cincinnati; and former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Ap prox -imately 75 of the 90 endorsers are retired.

The individual commitment varies by player.

“At the very least the players are allowing us to use their names and are signing memorabilia that will be used to help us raise funds,” said Erik Whittington, assistant director of media relations for American Life League. “Others are speaking with the media, making public appearances and helping us to recruit other members.”

Local teams have already been organized in Arizona, Baltimore, San Francisco and Cleveland with representation from teams in 28 of the 30 regions.

The idea is the brainchild of Jim Berlucchi, president of C Results, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consulting firm. American Life League contacted Berlucchi about a year ago.

“They wanted help with their Campus for Life project,” Berlucchi said. “Originally, I had the idea to recruit 1,000 people to each give $1,000 for the campus.”

At some point the idea transitioned to baseball — setting up a league with competing teams. Berlucchi said there was also an interest in using high-profile personalities to more effectively propagate the pro-life message.

“We're not asking them to protest at a clinic,” Berlucchi added. “We're simply asking them to lend their name to a baseball-themed campaign.”

With the help of Sal Bando, Berlucchi began assembling a list of endorsers.

“We worked with people from organizations that minister to baseball players and personal contacts such as Unlimited Potential to get letters out to former and active players,” Bando said.

Bando serves as the Battin’ 1000 chairman. He sees his efforts as an extension of the work he and his wife, Sandy, have done with Wisconsin Right to Life since the late 1970s.

“We have spoken at some of their functions, helped them raise money and have served on the board,” said Bando, who attends St. Clare's Catholic Church in North Lake, Wis.

“What most of us see are the liberal media and celebrities standing out on this issue,” Bando said. “It's time for those of us who are the silent majority to say, ‘Hey, we're pro-life!'"

The Boys of Summer

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan serves as chaplain of Battin’ 1000. But it's an ecumenical project that has garnered the endorsement of many non-Catholics.

Among them is Gene Walter, former left-handed relief pitcher with the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Seattle Mariners.

“Life is sacred and the sanctity of life needs to be preserved,” said Walter, an evangelical Christian.

“Every abortion cheapens life and sends a bad message to kids. There are so many better choices that people can make.”

As one example Walter cited the work of St. Joseph's Orphanage in his town of Louisville, Ky.

For former all-star Chicago Cubs pitcher Scott Sanderson and his wife, the pain of a number of miscarriages impressed upon him the value of life.

“It's always seemed to me that the unborn are defenseless in this fight,” said Sanderson, who currently represents baseball players as an agent. “I believe very strongly in the sanctity of life. I've never been a political activist, but I'm glad to lend my position and support.”

Eight players were on hand for Battin’ 1000's first press conference Feb. 21 at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix. Naturally, the project has already received some criticism.

“[Arizona Diamondbacks Chief Executive Officer Jerry] Colangelo and his testosterone-charged ballplayers can do anything they want with their time and money,” Marge Mead, legislative coordinator for the pro-abortion group Arizona National Organization for Women, told the Arizona Republic. “The players will try to use what little moral authority their ball-playing fame has purchased to fund raise for an organization that seeks to dictate women's reproductive choices.”

The players said the negative press did not concern them. Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, a Methodist, said he expects it.

“I imagine any time you take a stand you're going to get criticized,” he said. “That's all right.”

After the money has been raised and the season is over, many are hopeful the groups’ efforts will continue.

“It doesn't have to end with the baseball season,” Walter said. “I anticipate that the campaign could go in many different directions, such as golf scrambles and silent auctions.”

In addition, many are hopeful others will jump on board.

“There are a lot of Christian athletes that I played with who are very pro-life,” said Gary Wayne, former left-handed relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers. “If other players see us stepping forward, they will come forward as well.”

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.