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Padres broadcaster Mark Grant jumps into the arms of Ryan Cohen during the Send Them Kids to Camp Wiffle Ball event. Cohen, of Cardiff, has raised nearly $14,000 to benefit kids whose parents are battling cancer. Photo by Camille Peet
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Sports Talk: Cardiff’s Cohen knocks it out of the park for Camp Kesem

It’s easy to swing-and-miss when trying to hit a Wiffle Ball. Yet Ryan Cohen connected with the plastic ball and his charity endeavor.

Who would think people would pay $400 to play Wiffle Ball?” said Cohen, a Cardiff resident. “I can’t believe it.”

Others’ faith in Cohen isn’t surprising considering his belief in the Padres and Camp Kesem. Few wave the Padres flag with Cohen’s gusto and he brings that same enthusiasm to an outdoor oasis for youngsters.

“To be honest I can’t believe I have raised a single penny,” Cohen said. “I hate asking people for money, but this is such a great cause, they donate. It’s humbling, a huge honor and I’m really grateful.”

Cohen believes in a miracle every day and that’s collecting dough to help someone he doesn’t know reach Camp Kesem. His recent Send Them Kids to Camp Wiffle Ball tournament at Peet’s Park in Lakeside brought in $5,000 through eight three-player teams and others contributing some lettuce.

Cohen isn’t a garden variety Padres booster and we spoke with him during last season’s playoff run. But Cohen, who turns 21 soon, is in sprint mode now to find cash for youngsters.

Camp Kesem is a free, weeklong summer camp in the High Sierras catering to children, ages 6-18, of parents who are battling cancer. It’s a place that offers fun and a chance to click with others appreciating their pain. It was only online for the 2020 and ’21 summers but returning to in-person this fall.

With venues nationwide serving more than 8,000 campers, Cohen is involved in the one near Lake Tahoe, which is closest to UC Davis, where he’s a senior. Cohen is the chapter’s co-director, along with Brendan Crow, another Cardiff resident.

“You get the whole gambit of emotions,” Cohen said about Camp Kesem. “It’s a space where the kids can be with people that know what they’re going through.”

Among the 5,500 camp counselors nationwide, Cohen was among last year’s top fundraisers with $7,000, thanks in part to people he’s never met. He’s active on social media, especially on Twitter (@RyanCohen24), and his followers are upfront about backing his cause.

“They are incredible,” Cohen said. “I’ve gotten a fair amount of attention and it all goes back to that I root for a baseball team. I’m passionate, sure, but there are a lot of passionate people out there. I just fell in with a support group of Padres fans and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

Good fortune smiled on Cohen when Mark Grant, the Padres broadcaster for Bally Sports San Diego, signed on to try and master the ball with holes that dips and dives.

“It’s about launch angle and slapping some cheese,” Grant said before the game, in predicting homers and strikeouts.

Grant was Cohen’s teammate, as well as Madeleine Boedeker, whose mother covered her entry fee and then some.

Their first-round game was epic with Cohen blasting a go-ahead homer. The second round didn’t go as well but it’s all swell with Cohen: His annual total swelled to nearly $14,000 to give them kids.

Encinitas’ Steven Woods, a morning co-host at 97.3 FM The Fan, also played to support Camp Kesem and Cohen.

“He is truly just a good, good human being,” Woods said. “I’ve got two sons and I’ve often said if they grow up like Ryan Cohen, that means I did something right.”

At Camp Kesem, smiles counterbalance the heartache that is never far away.

“Kesem in Hebrew means ‘magic,’” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, cancer just doesn’t affect Jewish people, it affects everyone, and that’s why our camp is open to everybody.”

Praise to Cohen for placing service above self.

“Camp Kesem is the most magical experience of your life,” he said. “When you see an 8-year-old hugging a 14-year-old who can understand the horrible pain the younger one is feeling, it’s magical. And that bond doesn’t just last one week.”

Want to help Cohen and Camp Kesem, and why wouldn’t you? Go to donate.kesem.org/gopadres and embrace the magic of giving.

It’s certainly easier than hitting a Wiffle Ball.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports.

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