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Baseball's charitable efforts always in season

On-field feats trumped only by off-field contributions of players, owners @RichardJustice

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is one of baseball's best players, a dynamic presence who helped reignite the sport in Pittsburgh. To those who know him best, though, that's just a start.

There's also the Andrew McCutchen who gives of his time and money to support programs that counsel at-risk teens and funds an assortment of scholarship programs. Among his projects was helping send seven high-school students to perform musical numbers at an international YMCA convention in Prague.

In ways large and small, McCutchen sees his emergence as one of the faces of baseball as both a blessing and an opportunity.

And a responsibility.

"I've been blessed," McCutchen said, "and part of being blessed is being able to give back and to contribute to my city. Plenty of people helped me. Maybe something I do can make a difference for someone."

Perfect, huh?

Miguel Cabrera would understand. He supports children's health initiatives and youth baseball programs and the renovation of fields in Detroit and his native Venezuela. When he's asked about any of this, Cabrera seems almost embarrassed. He clearly is not doing it for the attention or the praise. Cabrera was raised to understand that some people are more fortunate than others. And so, he gives back and attempts to set an example.

Again, though, these are not things Cabrera seems comfortable talking about. He doesn't want it to be about him. Rather, it's about doing the right thing.

"I want to give kids a chance to play, to stay off the street," Cabrera said.

And there's Tim Hudson. His foundation has raised more than $700,000 for needy families in Alabama and Georgia through grants, scholarships, books and assistance to school, churches and youth organization. Hudson also supports an assortment of charities, from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia to raising almost $2 million for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Aflac Pediatric Cancer Research Program.

Bronson Arroyo supports our military with contributions ranging from hosting concerts and taking part in fundraisers to helping provide injured soldiers with homes and other assistance.

And Justin Masterson gets it, too. He's involved in a long list of programs, including visiting schools, donating to battered women's shelters and working with missions to assist needy children in the Dominican Republic. During Masterson's five seasons with the Indians, team officials say he embodied what they want all their players to be in terms of having a charitable heart and being a good citizen of the community.

These five players are among hundreds doing this kind of work, famous players and others less so. Some we know. Some we never will. Their goal is about as basic as it gets: to make the world a better place.

In this season of giving, we offer them our gratitude. From the moment Bud Selig became Commissioner 21 years ago, he has used phrases like "a social institution" to describe Major League Baseball. He has started all sorts of programs to fulfill that mission, from donating to causes to raising awareness.

Selig speaks with unbridled enthusiasm about the players like McCutchen who've contributed so much.

And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Baseball has programs small and large designed make a difference. It has raised more than $40 million in support of its Stand Up To Cancer program and donated $10 million to Welcome Back Veterans programs. In addition, there was a $200,000 donation to typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines and $100,000 to West, Texas, in the wake of the explosion of a fertilizer plant. Another $1 million was raised jointly with the Mets for Hurricane Sandy-related causes with the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

And there are those pink bats. Every Mother's Day, hundreds of players use them to raise money for and call attention to breast cancer. Baseball combined with Habitat for Humanity and the Red Sox to build a home for a needy family during the World Series.

Beyond the good deeds, there has been an effort to understand baseball's role in American history.

Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated annually to honor the man who crossed the color line in 1947 and changed the sport -- and the United States -- forever. Because of this annual focus on Robinson, he has come to life for thousands of fans and players and is more than just a name or an ideal. He was a living, breathing human being who endured unspeakable acts of brutality to make the world better for all of us.

Maybe you've heard this is the golden age of baseball thanks to parity and attendance records and a host of new and better ways to consume the game. Maybe you've heard that the game has as many exciting players, young and old, as it has ever had.

But there are other reasons this is the sport's golden age. More than ever, baseball -- that is, its players and owners and executives -- understand they have a responsibility beyond the numbers and the wins and losses.

These players are another reason to celebrate this holiday season and to appreciate exactly why this is the golden age.

Merry Christmas, folks.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Bronson Arroyo, Miguel Cabrera, Tim Hudson, Justin Masterson, Andrew McCutchen