Byrnes stops in Cleveland during charity trek

Former Major Leaguer presents $2,500 check to Cleveland schools

August 28th, 2018
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Former Major League Baseball outfielder and MLB Network analyst Eric Byrnes visits the MLB Fan Cave Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Broadway and 4th Street in New York City. (Photo by Paige Calamari/MLB Photos via Getty Images)Paige Calamari/Getty Images

CLEVELAND -- Eric Byrnes isn't the same man he was on July 22, when he embarked on a cross-country triathlon. He's on a mission.

The former Major Leaguer was in Cleveland on Tuesday as part of his triathlon across America to raise awareness for the Let Them Play Foundation, which pledges funds and grants to youth activity programs. The stop marked the ninth of 12 cities on the nationwide tour.

Byrnes, now slender and suntanned like fine leather, presented a check for $2,500 to the physical education programs at Whitney Young High School and Charles Eliot PK-8 School of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District at Progressive Field prior to Tuesday's game between the Indians and the Twins.

Accepting the check was Whitney Young athletic director Drew Martin, physical education teacher Rhonda Scharf and students from the schools.

"It really means a lot, especially for the students," Martin said. "For Eric to invest, it further invests our students' opportunities outside of the classroom."

"This opportunity that the Byrnes family has given our children is immeasurable," said Scharf, who's in her third decade of teaching. "The type of equipment we'll be able to use, the different activities we'll be able to do -- it's such a blessing."

According to Byrnes, CMSD is the 17th institution to benefit from Let Them Play since its launch in early July.

"I've never experienced anything like it," Byrnes said. "I've given money to charity my whole life, but I never got to see it make a difference."

Byrnes' trek began in San Francisco and is scheduled to conclude in New York City on Sept. 15. Byrnes swam seven miles across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, where, according to his website, he started his trip on bike that covered approximately 2,344 miles over 25 days from Oakland to Chicago. From Chicago, Byrnes plans to run the remaining 846 miles to the Bronx.

Byrnes said when looking at school choices for his children, it was revealed to him approximately 97 percent of all public schools have gotten rid of everyday physical education classes, and with the popularity of video games, many children are spending more time in front of a screen and less outside.

After learning that, Byrnes said it was clear the cause hit close to home.

"The way I looked at it, I played football and had ADHD, like that was the way to stimulate my mind and focus and lock in," he said. "We're taking that away from the kids, and it's not fair."

Byrnes has stopped in Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Neb., Des Moines, Iowa, South Bend, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio, before reaching Cleveland. His remaining two stops before his mid-September stop in New York are Pittsburgh on Sept. 3 and Philadelphia on Sept. 12.

Since Aug. 15, Byrnes said he's averaged running 30 miles a day, and he ran 126 miles in the four days that led from Chicago to South Bend.

"It put a lot of strain on my body, so it was tough," Byrnes said. "It's not ideal. It's a lot, but we also had a time frame that we wanted to hit certain ballparks by certain points. We had to coordinate with home games, too, so we've just been charging along, and I've been doing whatever I can do to get there."

Byrnes spent parts of 11 seasons in the Majors, most notably six years with the Athletics, with whom the outfielder slashed .270/.336/.462. He also had stints with the D-backs, Rockies, Mariners and Orioles. Byrnes completed his first Ironman Triathlon in 2011 and has since completed 11 full-distance Ironmans and more than 20 ultra-marathons, including the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, which he finished in about 22 hours. He is currently a broadcaster for MLB Network.

"[To] go across the country and use my baseball connections to deliver grants to these different after-school youth activity programs, it's been a pretty wild ride," Byrnes said. "To be able to hand things out like that, see that reaction, how excited they are, it makes the grind worth it, as far as I'm concerned."