September 15th is recognized as Roberto Clemente Day in the baseball world to honor the life and legacy of one of the greatest players and humanitarians in the history of the game. Clemente was a 15-time All-Star, a 2-time World Series Champion, a World Series MVP and a NL MVP. Over his 18-year MLB career, Clemente accumulated 3,000 hits, 240 HRs and 1,305 RBIs. Along with his impressive on the field statistic, Clemente was known for being just as amazing off the field. Clemente would often spend is offseason doing charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Clemente sadly passed away in 1972 in a plane crash on his way to deliver aid to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
In 2002, MLB established Roberto Clemente Day on September 15th to honor the memory of Roberto Clemente. This day is often used as a day of service to honor Clemente’s charitable and humanitarian efforts. Com2uS, the developers of MLB licensed video games like MLB 9 Innings and Out of the Park Baseball, are getting in on the day of service with a pair of charity livestreams. This livestreams will raise money for the Roberto Clemente Foundation, which seeks to promote change and community engagement through the example set by Roberto Clemente. I got to sit down with Rich Grisham, the Head of Business Development for Com2uS. We talked about how the company’s culture of using video games to do good first got started, and how they will be honor Clemente this year.
Brandon: Can you tell me a little bit to start about yourself, what your position is with Com2uS, and what sort of games you’ve worked on with them?
Rich: Sure, so my name’s Rich Grisham. I’m the Head of Business Development for Com2uS. I do a lot of different things. Basically my main role is to be responsible for our sports titles. We have several Major League Baseball and MLBPA licensed titles like MLB 9 Innings, MLB Perfect Inning, MLB Rivals which just launched, Out of the Park Baseball, NBA Now. I also do a lot of work with some of our other titles including some of our Walking Dead titles, our Summoners War titles. But at a high level my job is to just try to do the best that I can to maximize our partnerships, develop new relationships with new partners, and to work a lot with Major League Baseball and with the Players Association and with all the different organizations that you do when you make licensed games. So that can be doing a lot of work with our cover athletes for the games, it can be doing a lot of work with Major League Baseball for events. I do a lot of work with legendary players and their estates. MLB 9 Innings and Out of the Park Baseball in particular have done a lot of work with heroes of the past like Jackie Robinson and obviously Roberto Clemente and Lou Gehrig. So there’s a lot of different things. Everyday is different and everyday is a big challenge but in a good way. I know that’s a long answer to a simple question but hopefully that helps you out.
Brandon: So, you mentioned Roberto Clemente. Com2uS is doing these charity livestreams to raise money for the Roberto Clemente Foundation. You guys have done this before in the past, I know you’ve done the Lou Gehrig Foundation to raise money for ALS. What was the decision like to do the Roberto Clemente Foundation this year?
Rich: Well, what it really comes down to is, and I don’t want to sound like I’m patting myself on the back because I’m not because anything like this involves a lot of different individuals and organizations. But when I started with Com2uS about 3 years ago, and I started to work with some of the estates of the legendary players, especially people like Lou Gehrig, I just thought that we had an opportunity as a company to do a little good. Obviously Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest ballplayers of all-time, also suffered from ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
When I was the Chief Operating Officer/Chief Marketing Officer at Out of the Park Baseball before it was acquired by Com2uS I did some charity livestreams with the Jimmy Fund in concert with the Boston Red Sox and it was really just a wonderful thing to be able to do. When you’re making video games, it is an extraordinary challenge. The video games of today are 24/7/365. You’re never, ever done. You’re always working either supporting your current live operations or you’re building the next game. So, for most of my time at Out of the Park, you focus almost exclusively on that. But then when we had the opportunity to do some work with the Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive and we got to work with some of the Red Sox on-air talent and playing some games and raising money. It was just a wonderful experience and we did it a few times.
So, when I joined Com2uS when they acquired Out of the Park Baseball, and I started working with Lou Gehrig(‘s estate), I just said, “Hey look, this just makes too much sense to not try to explore opportunities to do some good.” Obviously Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS, affects people to this day. There is no cure. And even people in and around baseball continue to be afflicted by this. Plus a few fans at the ALS Association were fans of Out of the Park Baseball. So we collectively struck up a relationship and then when we started working Lou Gehrig as a legend in MLB 9 Innings, I basically pitched our leadership on, as part of our licensing agreements to use these player’s images and likenesses and statistics, why don’t we also just include it in the agreement that we will do some charity livestreaming and involve the community. And the company said that’s a great idea, go ahead and make it happen. So, we did and then what I’ve been working on building as we’ve moved into this is with some of our other licensed legends to do things around that similar so it just becomes part of what we do.
And Roberto Clemente is recognized as one of the all-time great humanitarians. He sadly passed away in a plane crash while on a mission to help earthquake survivors. I mean that’s an extraordinary thing to want to do as a player who had 3,000 hits and was a clear cut Hall of Famer and two-time World Series champion. So we got started with Lou Gehri and the ALS Association and then once we started to work with Roberto Clemente and his estate, it made complete sense to do this. So really, it’s a program that we have begun and are working on and are continuing to build upon. Like I said, the bottom line is we want to do some good. And we’re not like trying to scale mountains here. This is starting small with our community with different organizations and things like that. But it’s the kind of thing where once you start to do it, you realize how important it is and how if you don’t do it, it won’t happen.
So it’s now become part of our Com2uS company culture. Every year we have campaigns for charity related to the different estates and licenses that we work with, like I said Lou Gehrig or Roberto Clemente and there will be more. And it’s really exciting to be a part of it. We’re not like writing million dollar checks to these organizations, but as anyone who works in charity knows, every little bit helps. When times are good it’s hard to raise money for charity and when times are tough, it’s even harder. For a lot of people these days it’s a tough economic time for some people. So we just want to do the right thing and we think this is something that represents how Com2uS is trying to do some good and by working in partnership with the Roberto Clemente Foundation and with Lou Gehrig and the ALS Foundation, and obviously with the support of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, it just makes so much sense. Again, long answer to a simple question, but that’s sort of the process of how we have gotten here.
Brandon: That’s fantastic, I think it’s really interesting talking about how you work with the estates of guys like Lou Gehrig or Roberto Clemente. What was their reaction when you first pitched the idea of, when your in these licensing conversations with them and you say not only do we want to license this person’s name and let them be in the game and let player’s play with them and enjoy that but also we want to honor the work that they did and try to continue that and try and help in that mission. What was their reaction when you first brought that up with them?
Rich: Well, I hope it okay for me to say this, because you know it was really one of those moments when I really was proud. When I was working with the Roberto Clemente Foundation, which includes some of his family members, they were very grateful, and they said, “Look very few people do this. Very few people sort of raise their hand and say we want to partner with you to do this.” So that was a really wonderful moment of my career and it really sort of validated what we wanted to do which is to not just say that we’re going to do something, but literally put it into the license agreements so that we’re bound to it. Not that we wouldn’t do it, but again when you’re running baseball games, when you’re running 24/7/365 live service operation games with small teams of people, it’s really easy to just let some of these things go. So we wanted to hold ourselves accountable to do it.
And the reaction has been nothing short of wonderful and again really makes me proud and validates what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Again, I’d love to say that we’re going to raise a million dollars or something. These are not the sort of numbers we are talking about. But if we raise $5,000 or $15,000 or $25,000, that’s $5,000 or $15,000, or $25,000 more than would have been raised had we not done it. The other nice thing is with all of these estates, the Lou Gehrig estate, the Clemente estate, these are multi-year agreements that we have, so this is just the start. And once you start to do something and it becomes part of the culture of your organization, and perhaps even more importantly part of the culture of the community that plays your games, it really can build into something and that’s really what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to establish this, not as a one-time thing, but just as something that we do as part of our company and our community.
Brandon: I really like how you talk about how the culture there at Com2uS and also within the community of players who enjoy your games. What does the support from your players for these sort of charitable efforts mean to you and the people at Com2uS?
Rich: It means everything. First of all, whenever I do a livestream, I always say this to anyone who is watching. I say, “Thank you for being here, because we know that you could do anything with your time and with your money.” There is no shortage of opportunities to play a game or to watch a movie or to watch a football game or to go to a baseball game or to go to the beach or to do whatever they do. One of the great things about 2023 is we all have virtually unlimited entertainment options. So, whenever people show up to an Out of the Park Baseball stream or an MLB 9 Innings stream, I make sure to let them know that we appreciate this very much. Because again, they could do anything with their time and with their money. So then when you add onto that the charitable parts of it, you know asking people to make donations, that’s a big ask. So, we have been thrilled and delighted with the response of the community. Every single time we do this, we get 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 different people donating. Sometimes it’s $5, sometimes it’s $100.
You know this as well as anybody, the video game community is really smart and really savvy. They can smell something untoward a mile away. And they can tell with us with what we’re doing and with the partners that we have that we’re just doing something that’s really helpful. So, the response every single time is great. And again, it makes me proud of our community, it makes me proud of our company. I’m trying not to hurt my arm patting ourselves on the back because that’s not what this is about, but it’s just nice to be able to do this and the community response is great. Now they expect it from us, which is exactly what we want right. They expect it from us, and we expect it from ourselves. There’s no feeling quite like knowing you helped bring something good to the world that wouldn’t have been there if you didn’t do it in the first place.
Brandon: So, on top of doing this livestream to raise money in honor of Roberto Clemente, you are also adding some new content into your games as well. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re adding to the games?
Rich: Sure, so in the Out of the Park world, we just today introduced six new Roberto Clemente cards at different levels. Not to get too in the weeds, but you know Out of the Park Baseball’s Perfect Team mode has a lot of different ways to play. You have a league, you have tournaments, and within those tournaments there’s dozens of options of different tiers. So we have Iron, we have Silver, we have Gold, we have Diamond, we have Perfect, I’m missing one there. But we introduced a whole series of Roberto Clemente cards representing him at different points of his career that can be used in a lot of different ways. Some of them are in packs, some of them are mission rewards. They’re all different and they’re all interesting and I give our content creation team an extraordinary amount of credit for designing them in ways that will be a lot of fun to use in different ways. It’s the kind of thing that, when you introduce these kinds of cards into the game and people get a chance to look at the ratings and see how they’ll perform. And then on the other side you look at the card art. Like the art itself is just beautiful and I think it’s a great tribute to Clemente. So that has been a real blast and we just introduced them today and the response from the community again has just been extraordinarily positive. People are really enjoying the missions, they’re enjoying the cards. They’re very complimentary of the card art and it’s a team effort. It’s a team effort on the development team side, and it’s a team effort with the community. It’s so cool to be able to celebrate the career and the life of, not just a great ballplayer, but a great humanitarian. It’s really great to be able to bring those things into the game.
If you are interested in checking out the livestreams, there is one Friday September 15th, on the MLB 9 Innings YouTube channel, as well as one on Saturday September 16th on the Out of the Park Developments Twitch channel. To donate to the Robert Clemente Foundation, go to RobertoClementeFoundation.com/donate.