Nico embraces Cubs' tradition of giving back

November 24th, 2021

CHICAGO -- has witnessed the impact that more established players like Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo have made away from the field in Chicago. The young Cubs infielder has picked Ian Happ's brain on his own charitable endeavors.

Hoerner has not been in the big leagues long enough to accrue the kind of resources required to build a foundation and fund major projects. But he has embraced the city and has sought ways to get involved beyond the diamond.

"That's something I'd really like to be able to do one day," Hoerner said of the work some of his current and former teammates have done in the community. "What they've recommended was just getting your feet wet doing other stuff and see what's out there, because it's not just going to happen overnight."

That is one reason why Hoerner joined Cubs Charities on Tuesday afternoon to help with the group's annual partnership with National Runaway Safeline to help pack and deliver meals to shelters across the city. It marks the 16th year that Cubs Charities has teamed up with the group, which aims to keep runaway, homeless and at-risk teens off the streets.

The goal this year was to pack and deliver more than 600 meals (up from 500 a year ago) from the Smoke Daddy restaurant that neighbors Wrigley Field. The event used to serve around 100 people with an in-person dinner, but the pandemic forced the Cubs to change direction and, in turn, reach more people via deliveries.

"We keep growing it and getting better at it," said Jennifer Dedes-Nowak, the senior manager for Cubs Charities programs. "The hope is next year, depending on how things are, once we'll be able to be back in person, I'd love to be able to do a combination of these events.

"I think it's important to serve all the neighborhoods in Chicago and then also have that in-person event, because it was really nice when we had that connection with people and we were able to bring people together."

Other recent or ongoing initiatives have included:

• Packaged 150 lunches last week in partnership with Chicago Help to deliver meals to a community center in Lakeview that serves the LGBTQIA+ community.

• Earlier this month, Cubs Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities players, coaches and family members volunteered at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, sorting food to help Chicagoans facing hunger issues.

• Through Dec. 15, Cubs Charities is collecting winter coats (new or gently used) at the Cubs Store at Gallagher Way for Heartland Alliance. The coats will be donated to Afghan refugee families arriving in the city. Donors receive a 10 percent discount at the Gallagher Way shop.

• Former Cubs pitcher Jon Lester provided funding to deliver warm meals to three shelters in Chicago on Monday.

As for Hoerner, the infielder has connected with Cubs Charities to search for ways he can contribute. That has included getting involved on the education side of things, especially when it comes to working with kids.

Hoerner cited Heyward's project in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West side, where the veteran outfielder contributed to the construction of a youth athletic center. The space will feature the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy.

"There's a point of overlap between sports and education," Hoerner said. "That's an area that I feel most comfortable working in. J-Hey's project that he's developing over at that space is going to be able to provide academic and sports in one place. And to me, I just think about what I would like to do as a kid and that sounds about as good as it gets, right?"

Hoerner recently joined a discussion with college-bound youth within the Cubs Scholars program to discuss his time at Stanford. Coming up, the infielder will pop into a local elementary school as a P.E. teacher for a day.

"That's one I'm looking forward to," Hoerner said.

He laughed when asked if dodgeball would be part of the experience.

"We'll keep it low-key," Hoerner replied.

Hoerner will field questions from the kids, discuss some of the goals and values of the Cubs Jr. All-Stars program and provide some in-person baseball instruction for the kids. Those are the kind of experiences Hoerner will keep seeking as he finds his own path away from the field.

"Actually, it's amazing," Dedes-Nowak said. "I was so excited, because this year, Nico mentioned that he would be staying in Chicago for a lot of the offseason. He just really wanted to get involved. So, we've worked together to see how he wanted to give back."