11/26/08 4:00 PM EST
Tigers have Detroit on their minds
Tough times have team even more focused on giving back
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
They also know that with plenty of real-world challenges facing Detroit, there's a home city and state that needs their efforts to give back.
For the Tigers this season, charity has been a team effort. Some of it involved high-profile projects from star players. Others were low-profile gestures from players that went relatively unnoticed. The sum of it all, however, was an attempt to reach out and help fans and residents going through tough times.
"This was a phenomenal year," said Elaine Lewis, the Tigers' vice president of community and public affairs. "I think we touched a lot of kids -- a lot of fans. Our priority is always to reach out to the community and touch lives through the game of baseball."
The numbers were impressive. More than $160,000 in grants from the Detroit Tigers Foundation went to local charitable organizations. More than 3,000 pieces of baseball equipment were collected for area youth leagues and teams. More than 70,000 donated tickets allowed kids and families the chance to get out to a game. The impact on the community is something that can't be quantified.
The outreach will continue this holiday season, when the Tigers try to spread some cheer to families and children with giveaways and visits to area hospitals and organizations.
The year-long effort started with the Winter Caravan and a decision from the heart from one of the faces of the franchise. Magglio Ordonez, coming off a 2007 season in which he won a batting crown and nearly became the American League MVP, became a valued piece of Detroit's Mexican Village community with the establishment of the Ordonez Family Scholarship.
The renewable four-year scholarship allows a deserving high school senior each year from Southwest Detroit, including the Mexican Village neighborhood, to help fund their college education. Ordonez made the announcement in January before a packed crowd at a local church.
"I have to give something back to the community," Ordonez said at the time. "People here in Detroit, they've been really nice to me. They've supported me the last three years. It's a way I can do something for the fans and the people here in Detroit."
Ordonez was also involved personally in many of the team's other charitable activities, serving as a celebrity barista at a local Starbucks to help raise money to support baseball and softball field renovations in Detroit. He also purchased tickets for families to attend the team's annual Fiesta Tigres celebration.
The Tigers nominated Ordonez for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award, given out annually to the player who best exemplifies the Hall of Famer's legacy of sportsmanship, community involvement and contribution to the team.
Curtis Granderson did not repeat as a Clemente Award nominee, but his focused effort to contribute to educational efforts in Detroit continues to impress. After raising money for his Grand Kids Foundation through his first charity basketball game, Detroit's leadoff man helped provide school supplies and books for families, kids and schools in need, while also providing funds for equipment and facilities at schools in Michigan's inner cities. Just last month, the foundation provided $17,000 for Flint schools to help pay for renovations at a city running track.
Granderson also makes frequent school visits, reading to kids and encouraging interest in creative activities.
"The importance of education is something I cannot stress enough to our nation's youth," Granderson said, "and I want to help find ways to ease the burden within some of these inner-city schools while also striving to make learning more fun."
Granderson and fellow star players also played a big role in the cornerstone of the team's community drive. After careful planning and work with Major League Baseball, the Tigers established Play Baseball Detroit to draw more children in the city to baseball and softball after several years of declining participation. The Tigers launched a year-long effort through equipment drives, school rallies, youth clinics and even an annual tournament to introduce the game to area kids. More than 5,500 kids benefited from the program.
"We could not have done that without the coaches and the players," Lewis said. "We had Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield all reach out and talk to kids."
As part of Play Baseball Detroit and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, the Tigers helped collect new and gently used baseball and softball equipment to local youth organizations. This year's equipment and a $5,000 grant from BTF went to Eagle Sports Club, serving nearly 650 children in Detroit.
The Detroit Tigers Foundation and its grants continued to look to help developing youth programs in education and recreation, from the renovation of local fields to promoting good citizenship. Among the results was the creation of the Detroit Tigers Hometown Challenge, a three-day baseball and softball tournament for kids ages 6-19, and the Tiny Tigers summer T-ball program for 400 Detroit children.
As winter sets in around the area in December, the Tigers will again be going around town along with mascot PAWS. After the furry Tiger helps deliver Thanksgiving dinner baskets to Detroit foster families in the days leading up to the holiday, he'll help out in a holiday food basketball giveaway Dec. 5 at Matrix Human Services, as well as a holiday luncheon for the Angle Tree Adopt-a-Family program at Villas Nuevas Head Start on Dec. 19 and a youth bicycle giveaway at Greater Grace Temple.
The Tigers and SportService will treat a group of foster children to a holiday feast in the Tiger Club at Comerica Park along with a gift giveaway and a surprise shopping trip to a local mall. Finally, PAWS will spend Christmas Eve at Children's Hospital of Michigan, visiting kids who can't be home for the holidays.
"PAWS is a celebrity," Lewis said. "Kids all love the players, but PAWS just seems to have a special connection."
Meanwhile, one Tigers player who makes his offseason home in the area continues to make a difference when the season is over. Left-hander Nate Robertson has been able to make school visits, including reading to children, as the holiday season rolls around.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.