A 12-year-old "baseball fanatic" found a way to combine his love of baseball, specifically the New York Yankees, with honoring U.S. soldiers serving overseas.
Billy Cook, of Washington Township in Bergen County, N.J., came up with the idea of "Billy's Baseballs" to fulfill the service requirement for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.
Originally, Bill planned to just send letters to the troops so that he could complete the service project in between the demands of his baseball and basketball teams.
An idea from his mom, Phylisse Cook, to include baseballs with his letters sparked an even bigger idea from Billy.
"He said, 'Why don't we just write the letters right on the baseballs,'" Cook told GoodMorningAmerica.com. "The project came just from mom and son sitting and talking."
With the aid of his mom, dad and brother, Billy has sent 1,500 baseballs since October to soldiers serving as far away as Afghanistan.
"We send a lot to AFRICOM, the largest military base outside the U.S.," said Cook. "We send 18 balls at a time and one person becomes the baseball ambassador and hands them out to their unit."
Billy and his family have purchased around 100 baseballs while the rest have been donated by family, friends and local businesses and baseball organizations. The Cooks handle the shipping of the baseballs and work with the Major Stuart Adam Wolfert Institute in New York to determine where around the globe the baseballs should be sent.
"We ask people to address the notes with, 'To Our Heroes,' and then they write a message of hope or good cheer or, as Billy calls them, 'well wishes,'" said Cook, who notes they bring baseballs to groups like the Girl Scouts and host tables at local events where anyone can sign a baseball for a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"And if they're under 15 or have a personal connection to the military we ask them to note that because it makes it extra special for the troops," she said.
Billy, who was in school and not available for comment, has received touching letters of support from military members who received a "Billy's Baseball," including one in particular that really stood out to the young baseball player himself.
"A soldier wrote that he joined the military after he was cut from a Major League Baseball team and that this was the coolest gift he's ever received and that it was so personal it brought him back to his youth," Cook said.
Billy was awarded an "Above and Beyond" award by New York's WABC-TV this week for his efforts and also received the Citizen of the Year Award from the North Jersey Crime Prevention Unit for his efforts, according to his mom.
Though Billy's Bar Mitzvah will be held next month, he is leading the effort to continue and expand "Billy's Baseballs."
"I don't think any of us expected that it would be the size it has become but he's the one saying to me, 'We have to make sure this continues after my Bar Mitzvah,'" Cook said. "He's really proud of what he's done and he's taking it all in stride.
For more information on "Billy's Baseballs," click HERE.