NEW YORK -- By the time COVID-19 began sweeping across New York City early this year, Mets pitcher Steven Matz was prepared to do his part in fighting it. Dipping into a "war chest" of funds he had built through years of charity work, Matz donated $12,000 to Elmhurst Hospital, one of the hardest-hit medical facilities in the tri-state area, as well as $10,000 each to the New York Fire and Police Departments.
The combined total -- $32,000 -- was significant as a nod to Matz's TRU32 foundation, which he established in 2017 to support local military members and servicemen and women. The organization has since "taken on a life of its own," in Matz's words, raising thousands of dollars while branching into several different charitable arenas.
For those efforts, Matz is the Mets' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, Major League Baseball's highest philanthropic accolade, for the third year in a row. MLB will name the 2020 league-wide winner during the World Series.
"It's an honor, first off, to be recognized," Matz said. "But it also is a little -- I don't know what other word to use other than it's a little awkward because you don't do it for recognition. You know what I mean? You do it because you just recognize this platform that you have of pitching in the Major Leagues and being on TV and in the public eye, and just being able to reflect what you've been blessed with to help other people in your community in the little way you can."
That's a process Matz began almost immediately upon breaking into the big leagues in 2015. Understanding the influence of his new platform, the Long Island native teamed with the non-profit organization Angela's House near his hometown of Stony Brook to assist families caring for medically frail children. He also contributed to the MLB Players Association's equipment-matching program to provide local kids with baseball equipment, among other efforts.
By his second season, Matz wanted to do more, so he established TRU32. Initially, the program provided a vehicle for Matz to invite 32 first responders from the NYPD, FDNY and the United States military each homestand to Citi Field, where he spoke with them, signed autographs and took pictures. As Matz's agents, Rob Martin and Matt Cormier, became more heavily involved, the three men expanded TRU32's scope, adding an off-site fundraiser, Strikes for Steven, which raises money to fund scholarships for children of first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty.
So far, Matz has amassed more than $100,000 to support seven different scholarship funds for the children of fallen FDNY firefighters, and to fund two New York Police Foundation Junior Explorer Scholarships. Additional money came from his close friend, Jacob deGrom, who tabbed TRU32 for grants after winning the MLBPA's Players Choice National League Outstanding pitcher award the past two seasons.
When COVID-19 hit and Matz dipped into that war chest to help, he started selling TRU32 T-shirts to raise even more money. He's also paired with Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright on several charity initiatives over the years, including an annual fantasy football draft.
Back when Wainwright -- another Roberto Clemente Award nominee -- established that leaguewide event, David Wright was his contact on the Mets. Before Wright retired, the Mets' captain approached Matz suggesting he take over the partnership.
"Those are two guys I looked up to growing up, as human beings," Matz said. "Now they're asking me. It's really cool. It's really humbling. And I feel really blessed."