COMPTON, Calif. -- He wasn't on the guest list, nor was he recognized among the contributors and sponsors in the pre-event ceremony, but Reds prospect Hunter Greene arrived, to very little fanfare, just as the first people were filtering through the long line Tuesday at Compton's 14th annual Turkey Giveaway.The
COMPTON, Calif. -- He wasn't on the guest list, nor was he recognized among the contributors and sponsors in the pre-event ceremony, but Reds prospect Hunter Greene arrived, to very little fanfare, just as the first people were filtering through the long line Tuesday at Compton's 14th annual Turkey Giveaway.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Greene went almost unnoticed -- though many soon spotted the 6-foot-4 right-hander, and he paused to greet guests and pose for photos -- as he immediately jumped in to distribute turkeys amid the dozens of volunteers at MLB's Urban Youth Academy.
"I might not be from [Compton], but I love to still be in the community, to still give back as much as possible," said Greene, who grew up near Santa Clarita and attended Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. "A lot of people, they think it's hard to do and it takes too much time and effort, but for me, it's easy. I love doing it, and I love the interaction, being intimate with the community and just giving back."
The 19-year-old, who's rated by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 22 prospect, is just beginning his professional career, and although an elbow injury slowed his progress toward the big leagues, he's already earned a reputation for his community service in the Southern California area, often appearing alongside established Major Leaguers at charitable events and academy functions.
Last year, not even seven months after he was drafted, Greene launched a youth camp and community festival in Inglewood that drew marquee names like Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. The Compton academy is partnering with Greene as the location for this winter's camp, scheduled for Jan. 6.
Greene's father, Russell, describes his son's service-oriented mindset as "organic." It's a natural fit for the budding Reds prospect, whose community work dates back to organizing a book drive when he was 8.
"You don't have to force him to do it, it's just naturally who he is," Russell Greene said. "It's something he's been doing since he was a child."
Greene is emblematic of the MLB Youth Academy's mission, which aims to support the community by expanding access to baseball, softball and educational programs to underprivileged youth. He's a product of the Compton facility, quite literally -- he's been going there since he was 6 years old.
"He's a special guy," said Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president for youth and facility development. "He has a great family. His mom and dad understand what it's like to give back and taught him how important it is, and that's going to be his mantra his whole life. I think he's going to be one of those people where we're going to look back and go, 'Wow, he's the real deal.'"
The Compton academy opened in 2006, and has seen more than 160 of its alumni drafted by MLB clubs, including Greene, the Yankees' Aaron Hicks, the A's Khris Davis and the Phillies' J.P. Crawford and Vince Velasquez. MLB has since built academies in Cincinnati, Dallas, Gurabo (Puerto Rico), Houston, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Three more are in development in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.
"The academy has a huge presence here in the community," said U.S. congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan, who represents California's 44th district and was on hand for Tuesday's giveaway. "We need more green fields, we need more ballparks, so to have the Major League Baseball Youth Academy, right here in Compton, where kids need that open space, is a fantastic opportunity."
While the academy supports local student athletes with free programming year-round, it broadened its focus to the community at large Tuesday, hosting the City of Compton's annual giveaway for a seventh straight year after the program outgrew its previous home outside city hall.
"It's a blessing to be here, for people to give back and care about other people," Compton resident Cathedral Reliford said. "I think it gives [the community] hope. It makes you want to go out there and do your best, knowing someone's out there with a helping hand to hold you, to help you up."
"It's providing a meal for my family, so I'm really grateful for this program," said Sha Burgess, who came with her three children from East Los Angeles. "What they're doing today, it means a lot."
More than 2,000 Thanksgiving meals of turkey, stuffing and macaroni and cheese were distributed by volunteers and academy athletes, with some recipients arriving in the early morning hours to wait in line.
"You have to imagine the multiplier," said former California senator Isadore Hall, who has hosted the giveaway since its inception. "One turkey for 10 mouths. We're giving out thousands of turkeys, so 100,000 mouths are being fed. If you could take that $20 that you would normally pay for a turkey and put it on something else, help pay a light bill, that's significant for a family that's struggling just to make ends meet.
"You see the lines here, that means people are hungry, people are in need. And we're taking an extra burden and we're carrying that for them."
Several elected officials were in attendance, including Barragan, councilwomen Tana McCoy (California's third district) and Emma Sharif (fourth district) and representatives from U.S. Senator Kamala Harris' office. Sponsors included Compton College, KJLH Radio, the local chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity (the country's first African-American college fraternity), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement and Prologis.
This year's event took on new meaning, with the larger Southern California community still reeling from a recent mass shooting and rampant wildfires. Miller led a moment of silence for the victims before meals were distributed.
"Thanksgiving is truly when you're supposed to give thanks," Miller said, "and giving thanks is when we serve others who don't have what we have."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.