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Running rodent creates a good year for a local charity

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
A squirrel runs through the legs of St. Louis Cardinal Skip Schumaker while he bats in the fifth inning during Game 4 of the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Oct. 5, 2011.

Squirrels are the sometimes adorable creatures that eat from your bird feeders, dig through your garden, and occasionally just can’t quite figure out how to successfully cross a road.

But the furry rodents were elevated to something approaching “hero” status in the 2011 Major League Baseball Playoffs – and that made it a very good year for a local charity.

The first squirrel showed up at Busch Stadium on Oct.  4, Game 3 between the Phillies and the Cardinals. This particular mammal hung out mostly under the padding on the outfield walls, prompting his first tweet. (Of course the squirrel had a Twitter account – what self-respecting modern rodent doesn’t?)

But it didn’t take long for the squirrel (or a furry cousin – it’s not clear how many Sciurus carolinensis were involved in the phenomenon) to expand his range. The very next night – Oct. 5, Game 4 – a furry four-legged fiend made a bold dash across home plate in the middle of an at-bat by the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker. (watch the video of the dash here).

The Redbirds’ second baseman flied out, but the team rallied to a 5-3 victory, forcing a Game 5.

Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager, indicated a willingness to shoot the squirrel if it made another dash. Busch Stadium groundskeepers set traps. And to the best of everyone’s knowledge, Oct. 5 marked the squirrel’s last physical appearance at the ballpark.

Off the field, the  phenomenon took on a life of its own.  Local stores reported selling out of squirrel Halloween costumes. The Cardinals created 40,000 squirrel-themed rally towels for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between Milwaukee and St. Louis. Major League Baseball incorporated the mad dash into its 2011 postseason advertising campaign. The "rally squirrel" even got on NPR.

One local charity decided to capitalize on St. Louis’s newest hometown hero. Rose Fogarty, the communications director at the Cardinal Glennon Children's Foundation, says executive director Dan Buck ran into her office on Friday, Oct. 7 yelling, “I have an idea!” The squirrel, Buck reasoned, had to be charitably-minded. So why not have the Foundation claim Rally as its own?

Behind-the-scenes work on the fundraiser started that very night. By Saturday, the Foundation had distributed a press release stating that Rally had chosen Cardinal Glennon as his (or her) charity of choice. By Monday morning, Oct. 10, 5,000 Rally Squirrel T-shirts were on store shelves.

Fogarty says the fundraiser has brought in $470,000 for the Foundation since its launch. Shirts are still available.

The squirrel’s Twitter account has been silent since Oct. 30, when he (or she – the squirrel’s gender was never determined) signed off by quoting Rogers Hornsby – "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do; I stare out the window & wait for spring."

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