The 98-mph fastball sizzled past Vance Law so fast he wasn't sure which of his senses recognized it.

He was pretty sure he'd heard it more than he'd seen it.

The Chicago White Sox infielder felt overmatched and Toronto Blue Jays righthander Jim Gott seemed to sense it.

So Gott threw another heater.

Law swung, but his swing was so late the bat made contact with the pitch well behind home plate, just before it reached the catcher's mitt, and he fouled it over the first-base dugout.

Of course the third pitch was a foregone conclusion. Straight heat. Swing and a miss. Strike three.

Law got help when he needed it most, and tonight he and other former baseball stars will give back by playing in a benefit game at Brent Brown Ballpark on the campus of Utah Valley State College.

Admission is free, making the game a once-in-lifetime chance to take the kids to the park and let them watch Law and other local treasures.

One of the biggest is Vern Law, Vance's dad and at one time the very best pitcher in all of baseball. Big leaguers called Vern Law "the Deacon" because he was one of the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to reach the majors.

Law was so good he won the Cy Young Award back when baseball gave out just one per year. That was 1960, when Law won 20 games, pitched a Herculean 290 innings and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series. There, he helped slay the mighty New York Yankees of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.

Law won Games 1 and 4 of the Series and left Game 7 with a 4-3 lead. The Yankees went ahead, but the Pirates won in the bottom of the ninth on a legendary walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski.

Law is 78 years old now and still pitches batting practice for the Provo High School Bulldogs.

Both Laws will be at the park tonight, as will former big leaguers Dane Iorg, Gary Cooper and Scott Nielsen, who set an NCAA record when he won 26 straight games for BYU. Another former Cougar and pro player, Kim Nelson, also will suit up.

They'll play alongside donors. You can still get in the game if you donate $1,000, says De Anne De Masters, development director for the Mountain Valley chapter of the Red Cross.

Businesses can still get a fence sign for a donation above $1,000. Or you can make a smaller donation at the game or participate in the silent auction, which includes baseballs signed by Dale Murphy.

If you can't donate, no problem. Just show up and have fun for free.

"We want to fill the stadium," De Masters said. "These athletes are amazing. They have a passion for the sport, and they are so generous."

Any donation is important. The local Red Cross and the local people it helps depend on us.

"We're in great need," De Masters said. "We need the support from the community. It's the only way we get money. We do not get federal funding."

Vance Law is playing because he knows the frustration he felt facing those 98-mph fastballs is nothing compared to the difficulties and tragedies faced by those helped by the Red Cross.

Help with his own major league problem came from legendary hitting coach Charley Lau, who told him to spread his feet wider next time he got up to bat.

"Wider," Lau yelled from the dugout as Law stood in the batter's box. "Wider," he yelled again.

Same fastball. This time Law laced a line drive that struck the outfield wall. The difference? Shortening the step he took every time he swung helped him get his bat to the ball faster.

Tonight, you can go out to the yard and make a difference, even if it's just by cheering on those who are helping Utah Valley families in need.


Utah County Bureau Chief Tad Walch lives with his wife and five children in Provo, their home for the past 21 years. E-mail twalch@desnews.com.