NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The annual Celebrity Golf Invitational at The Resort at Pelican Hill is a fundraiser for the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. For the Matthews -- event host Gary Jr.; his brother, Del; and their father, Gary Sr., or “Sarge” -- it’s also a family affair.
The Matthews family, which gathered on Monday in Orange County, Calif., for a philanthropic round of golf, has deep roots in the game of baseball. Sarge was a first-round Draft pick of the Giants in 1968, a National League Rookie of the Year in ’73 and an All-Star in ’79, and later a color commentator for the Phillies. Gary Jr., serving as host of the tournament along with Torii Hunter, spent 12 seasons in the Majors, including his All-Star campaign with the Rangers in 2006. Del, who played briefly in the Brewers’ farm system, currently serves as MLB’s vice president of baseball development, overseeing the league’s 10 Youth Academies, including Compton, the beneficiary of Monday’s fundraiser.
MLB’s Youth Academies offer free, year-round baseball and softball instruction to local youth. More than 500 Academy student-athletes have gone on to participate in collegiate baseball and softball programs, and more than 150 Academy alumni have been drafted by MLB Clubs.
“The Commissioner laid the foundation with youth development and making youth participation one of his major initiatives when he first came aboard,” said Del Matthews. “The Academy network is an integral part of that process. It’s one piece of that, but [it provides] the opportunity to impact youth in various states, cities, in urban areas around the country, to give kids the opportunity to play at essentially no cost when the game is getting more expensive.”
In addition to athletic instruction, the Youth Academy offers access to educational resources (such as SAT/ACT prep), as well as baseball vocational programming, offering its participants and members of the local community the opportunity to attend free seminars on umpiring, athletic field management, scouting and player development, sports and broadcast journalism, and public relations and statistics.
“You know, this isn’t something I just do research on,” said Gary Matthews Jr., hosting the Invitational for the third straight year. “I’ve gone to the Academy and brought my daughter there to take a look at it so she can see how they compete and the work they’re doing. It really is a top-notch program.”
In addition to supporting a cause they care about, the Invitational comes with the added bonus of being a chance for the Matthews brothers to get together with their father and reflect on how far they’ve all come.
“To have all three of us here, working together in a game that our father taught us, is really special,” said Matthews Jr. “Sometimes, it’s beyond words. But when I get out on the course with my father, I’m able to have some private moments with him, and talk about where we are today compared to where it started for him. … To think about where it began for my father to where it is today and being able to support the Youth Academy and still be involved with Major League Baseball is really special for my family.”
Sarge relishes being able to hit the links with his boys, and he couldn’t be prouder of the work they are doing.
“I think any dad would be proud of their [children], whether or not it’s doctor, lawyer, etc., following in their footsteps, to not only follow in, but also to surpass what you’ve done in your particular career,” said Matthews Sr. “That has happened, definitely, for me, and that is definitely gratifying when you see that -- and not just see it once or twice, but to strive to be able to even give back and to do more. And certainly, they have done just that. When you’re doing it for the kids, when you’re actually able to make sure that, hey, it’s not a selfish thing and you’re giving from the heart, it does my heart very well to see that.”
That significance of the work being done by the Matthews brothers through the Celebrity Golf Invitational is clear to the event’s attendees, including actor Donald Faison, of “Scrubs” fame.
“Baseball is one of those sports where you need a lot of people to play it,” said Faison. “It’s not one of those things where you can go outside and practice on a hoop or go and play by yourself. And it takes a lot of equipment, too, to play baseball -- you need gloves, you need bats, you need a field, you need a lot of things. So anytime we can, as professionals and people who have made a lot of money, can give back to kids to have an opportunity to play something like baseball is always a big deal.”
Academy pitching coach Sergio Santos, one of several former Major Leaguers on staff, affirmed the importance of the funds brought in by the event.
“The beautiful thing about our Academy is you can show up with no glove, no pants, no shirt, no anything, and we provide everything for free, on top of all the educational stuff we provide as well,” said Santos. “This just goes into funding that. And every year, it’s been bigger and better.”
And then there’s Padres hitting coach Johnny Washington, who is one of the Academy’s success stories. Washington, a native of Long Beach, Calif., got his first coaching experience at the nearby Compton Academy while he was a Rangers Minor Leaguer in 2006. He’s more than eager to give back to the place that helped him get to where he is today.
“There are tons [of Youth Academies] around the country, and they’re all serving the same purpose with helping the youth, promoting youth, giving guys other opportunities that they wouldn’t have gotten without the Academy,” said Washington. “When you see things like this grow, you want to be a part of it, because I remember exactly where it originated from and where it all started.”
The day of golf was followed by a dinner and both a silent and live auction, with proceeds from those also going to support the MLB Youth Academy in Compton.