Tony Cash hates his brother’s mustache. Their sister, Megan Emig, felt the same way at first, but she has gradually grown accustomed to it.
But no matter what Ralston Cash’s adoptive siblings think about his wiry, well-kept mustache, they can’t deny the profound effect it has had on several dozen lives and many more to come.
Ralston’s signature facial hair adorns the T-shirt for the Ralston Cash Foundation, a charity the Lakeview Academy graduate and professional baseball player created in 2015. The foundation purchases Christmas presents for families having lost a parent to cancer, a cause near and dear to Ralston.
The shirts — which feature a silhouette of Ralston’s face complete with mustache, glasses and a man bun that he has since cut — have been the main financial resource for the foundation, which is growing exponentially in its second year.
“I have the foundation’s Facebook account on my phone, and I see more and more activity on it,” said Emig, who handles the foundation’s social media accounts. “People are reaching out to families that we can help or sharing their story with us. Some are just sharing the cause, trying to get the word out there about the T-shirts.”
The Ralston Cash Foundation has experienced such a boom that it will be the subject of an ESPN feature, which Ralston said will air some time between Dec. 20-25.
It began on a whim the Christmas following the death of his adoptive father, one of many tragedies dotting the life of the 25-year-old pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization.
Ralston was 3 years old when his mother died in a car crash. With his father out of the picture, he came under the care of his grandparents Sue and Ralph, who he still calls “mom and dad.” Ralston’s uncle and aunt — only six and three years older than him, respectively — became his brother and sister.
“I lost my mom and gained a mom, dad, brother and sister,” Ralston said.
He excelled on the mound at Lakeview Academy, becoming a second-round draft pick in 2010. A litany of injuries hindered his ascension through the Dodgers’ farm system, but the worst news of his young career came from back home: doctors had diagnosed Ralph with bladder cancer.
He died within the year. Ralston was 20 years old.
That Christmas, which Emig said “has always been a huge holiday” for the Cashes, the family assembled to celebrate as usual. Ralston acknowledged his father’s death left a void in the proceedings, but being around his family kindled the spark that would eventually lead to his foundation.
“The next year, in 2013, I wrote on Facebook that if anyone knows a family that lost a parent to cancer, I want to give them a Christmas,” he said. “We didn’t have the charity, but someone told me about a family and I helped them. It was the greatest feeling.”
Ralston said he didn’t repeat that act of kindness the following year, producing a feeling of depression come Christmas Day.
“I finally remembered that at this time last year I was watching videos of kids opening up gifts and laughing with their dad even after losing their mom,” Ralston said. “I was like, ‘I can’t not do that again.’”
Tony, who technically owns the foundation with Ralston, helped on the financial end of starting the foundation, taking nearly two months to complete.
“I wanted to make sure we weren’t looked at as fraudulent people,” Tony said. “I thought it was a good idea, but then there’s also so many charities out there. Are people going to donate? You’re asking people for personal, hard-earned money. It’s hard to get people to get rid of it.”
Ralston, who got called up to the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate during the summer, considered that same issue and only recently began asking for donations to his charity. Though the mustache T-shirts generated more than $3,000 in the foundation’s first year, personal contributions have allowed it to expand in 2016.
Twenty-six families benefited from the charity in 2015, receiving gift cards to buy anything from toys to diapers to new bed sheets.
Ralston is unsure how many people the foundation will aid this year because it’s still performing outreach through Facebook and widow and widowers groups. Nevertheless, he’s enthusiastic about helping those in need this Christmas.
“The last thing we wanted families to have to worry about when it came time for everyone to be happy and love one another is the financial stress of the gifts and taking care of their family,” Emig said. “This is our way of giving back and helping those families that are struggling with that.
The shirt he made as a joke during his stint with Double-A Tulsa has turned into a source of joy and comfort for suffering families. Opposing teams have ordered shirts when they made trips to Oklahoma, and teammates in the Los Angeles organization have worn them during interviews and appearances on advertisements.
Ralston’s mustache can be divisive among his family members, but that unorthodox bit of facial hair has gone a long way toward uniting strangers for a greater good.
“When you have a dream and you can bring thousands of people together to live it,” Ralston asked, “does it get any better than that?”