CLEVELAND -- Being locker mates with someone in your clubhouse can mean many things. You talk more often with this person and can become fast friends. You can pick each other’s brains about the game. But for Guardians starter Triston McKenzie, he’s been able to spread the word about his charitable efforts.
From the minute McKenzie reached the big leagues, he wanted to give back. He worked closely with Guardians manager of player engagement and family relations Megan Ganser to make sure his ideas came to fruition.
McKenzie’s focus has always been about supporting kids, so he created his True2U Mentorship program, which helps eighth graders prepare for and make the transition to high school. And in his limited time in the big leagues, he’s already getting recognized for his work, as he was selected as the Guardians’ nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award.
“I think it’s … I wouldn’t call it hard work, because I think it’s more just my part in the community,” McKenzie said. “I’m just happy to be recognized, and I’m glad that everything that I’m doing is actually making an impact.”
McKenzie is in his second year of working with eighth graders at Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Valley View Boys’ Leadership Academy. He spent the entire 2021 season meeting with these kids via Zoom, due to the COVID-19 protocols in place. But now he’s been able to dive headfirst into everything he dreamed of when it comes to his mentorship vision. He recently brought his class to Progressive Field so the kids could see what his day-to-day routine looks like. They stayed for a game and had a pizza party at the park, thanks to McKenzie.
“Just little experiences like that, and being able to be in-person and know the relationships that I have with kids outside of the baseball field, and have them come to my job and see how I live and see how I work,” McKenzie said. “Even though I talked about it through Zoom, it’s a little bit different for them to come and have them there. I think it just builds our relationship, and I think moving forward that might be something I try to incorporate all the time.”
McKenzie doesn’t just guide kids through what a career in baseball entails, he gives advice about school and personal life. He also keeps up with what’s happening in their lives beyond his face-to-face time, recently absorbing some of the toughest news imaginable when he received word that one of his 13-year-old students was shot while playing basketball.
“He’s doing much better,” McKenzie said of his mentee. “It’s just a sad thing to hear in general, especially when I know how bright of a kid he is and just how bright his light is.”
For most players, they reach the Major Leagues and try to figure out how to survive, but for McKenzie, he was ready to make a difference with the kids in his community from the start -- something he’s prioritized since he was a child.
“I think it was more just all my role models, I think they all had something,” McKenzie said, of the inspiration for this program. “So coming up watching CC Sabathia, knowing that he has a camp -- or Derek Jeter, or I went to a Tommy Hunter baseball camp when I was little -- I think all the professionals that I did see, they were trying to give back to their communities in some way. And I think that just affected me in that way.”
McKenzie has big dreams for his True2U Mentorship program. He wants to expand his work but isn’t quite sure how he’ll do it just yet. So far, the biggest thing is that he doesn’t want to keep this to himself, and he’s already recruited his locker mate Steven Kwan to join him, starting in October.
“I think Kwan seeing what I did and him really feeling an attachment to trying to help the people that are going to come after him, I think it’s just huge,” McKenzie said.
Kwan has heard McKenzie talk about his charitable work in the conversations they have at their lockers. And whether McKenzie realizes it or not, he’s already starting to grow his program.
“Triston is obviously a big role model for me in terms of like off-the-field king of things,” Kwan said. “After I saw the impact he makes, I’d like to try to follow in his footsteps.”