Hustle for Heroes

Ray Genco makes his way through the stands at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, the home of an independent baseball team in Bridgeport, Conn.

As he does so, a bunch of media types with cameras – backpedaling as they go – chronicle every step he takes. Before he can even get to the field, though, the man walking with him, the one wearing a No. 14 Bridgewater Bluefish jersey and cap, asks Genco to join him for a pregame press conference.

Obligingly, Genco joins the Bluefish manager-for-a-day as they walk toward right field to meet the dozens of credentialed reporters. Before a question can be asked, the skipper introduces the 30-year-old Boston attorney.

The name of the man making the introduction is one Peter Edward Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader, who is serving an MLB lifetime ban after betting on baseball a quarter-century ago. It’s easy to assume that Rose, now 73, is making the appearance in yet another effort to enhance his chances of reinstatement to the game he loves.

Genco believes otherwise, but more on that later.

The press conference begins and Rose immediately makes an announcement about a charitable foundation he’s about to start for military veterans – Hustle for Heroes – and about the man – Genco – who will be its executive director.

Genco, who grew up on Hazeltine Avenue in Jamestown, graduated from Jamestown High School in 2002, George Washington University in 2005 and Wake Forest University law school in 2008, is surprised that Rose takes this opportunity to make the announcement, but he’s excited at the same time.

“I didn’t know the announcement was going to be (coming in advance),” Genco would say later, “but that just excited us, because (Rose) is willing to be bold and it’s on his mind when I’m not talking to him about it.”

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Genco has his own personal-injury law practice in Boston. The home page on the Genco Law website contains a photo of a pair of work boots next to a quote from Boston Bruins hockey legend Bobby Orr that reads: “Forget about style; worry about results.”

Or, as Genco likes to say, “Hard work, works.”

So earlier this year, Genco, who grew up playing and umpiring baseball in the Jamestown Babe Ruth League, decided to reach out to Rose to see if he’d be interested in promoting his personal-injury firm.

The promotional partnership didn’t materialize, but Genco did draw interest from Rose’s representative about collaborating on some projects. So in March, Genco flew to Las Vegas to meet Rose where the former, among other things, was asked to help with the logistics of putting together Rose’s manager-for-a-game appearance last week in Connecticut.

On Memorial Day, Genco and Rose met again in Las Vegas and the topics of veterans and not-for-profit organizations were discussed. Rose, Genco said, expressed a desire to start a foundation, focusing on veterans’ physical and mental health, as well as home modifications and jobs for them.

“Is that something you can do?” Genco recalled Rose asking.

Genco, who does not-for-profit consulting in his law practice, didn’t hesitate with a response.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Three weeks later, Rose announced the launch of the Hustle for Heroes Foundation at the pregame press conference in Bridgeport. Sitting nearby was Genco, the recently named Hustle for Heroes’ executive director.

“It’s an exciting relationship, a relationship with huge, huge potential and a relationship where we’re both learning,” Genco said. “I’m getting a better understanding of his goals and how I can help him accomplish them.”

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Genco has been involved in not-for-profit organizations as an attorney since arriving in Boston five years ago. One of them, The BASE program in Roxbury, is led by Robert Lewis Jr. It combines youth baseball and mentoring kids, in a program aimed to clear a path to college for youths challenged with finding one on their own.

Two of Genco’s former players were drafted two weeks ago, he said, and four infielders recently landed full scholarships at an Oklahoma junior college.

“Any success I’ve had is because of (Lewis),” Genco said.

In addition to coaching kids and providing tutoring and other academic support, The BASE program has allowed Genco to become involved in fundraising and helped him to learn how to connect with, what he called, the “big-wigs” in the region.

It’s those kinds of not-for-profit experiences, in combination with the admiration he has for numerous former JHS classmates in the military, that made Rose’s Hustle for Heroes Foundation so compelling for Genco.

A lifelong fan of Rose, Genco has seen how Rose has been portrayed in the media since his banishment from Major League Baseball in 1989, but bristles when the latter’s sincerity in this new foundation is questioned.

“That’s an attack on my credibility,” Genco said. “Once we start showing our results, and we’re going to get results quickly, then the story changes.”

Genco said he has a volunteer programming committee comprised of veterans, and mothers and fathers of veterans who will decide where the money will be directed. Several committee members are from Jamestown.

“I can’t wait to tell you the results in a year,” he said.

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Genco said he used to read books on Rose when he was a kid; was nicknamed “Charlie Hustle” by his coach, George Barone, during his Jamestown Babe Ruth League days; and even had his photo taken with Rose during a family vacation to Cooperstown about 20 years ago.

Fast-forward to last week to the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. Rose is posing for photographs with fans when he asked Genco if he wanted a photo, just the two of them.

The word play-by-play went something like this, according to Genco:

Rose: Ray, are you going to have (a picture taken)?

Genco: I already have one of us.

Rose: No, you don’t.

Genco: Yeah, I had one when I was 10 or 11 years old.

Among Genco’s other memorabilia at his East Boston home is a signed Rose jersey, which is displayed next to a military boot that U.S. Marine Brandon Clark, Genco’s high school buddy, gave to him after returning from Iraq.

A jersey and a boot.

Hustle and heroes.

Pete and Ray.

“I really think this is a perfect marriage,” Genco said.

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Updates on Hustle for Heroes will become available on www.gencolaw.com. Fans can support this mission immediately by following @HustleForHeroes on Twitter and by giving through www.HustleForHeroes.org.