Cruz's hometown philanthropy knows no limits

July 6th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Nelson Cruz saw needs in his community, he was driven to find solutions.  

What started with gloves and bats has grown to ambulances, fire trucks, police stations, medical resources, food, education centers, churches, community centers and more in the Dominican Republic. 

“It’s special,” Cruz, 42, said. “It makes you keep doing what you’re doing, because you know you’re doing the right thing. Through baseball, I’ve been just blessed to be helping so many people.” 

Cruz grew up in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, a town in the northwest region of the Dominican Republic. In 2010, he was moved when a friend lost his house to a fire because there was no fire truck in their hometown at the time. "That’s when everything started,” Cruz recounted. He donated a fire truck and two ambulances in 2012.  

“It was impacting a lot of people, saving lives with an ambulance,” Cruz said. “A lot of people tell me, ‘Thank you. Because of the ambulance, my aunt, my uncle, my mom is alive.’ Once, my grandmother had to use it, and that really shocked me. We had to transport her from my hometown to the big city, it’s like an hour away.”

That was only scratching the surface of Cruz's philanthropic efforts. He established the Boomstick23 Foundation in 2016. The mission of the nonprofit organization is “generating social impact by empowering children and young people in situations of social vulnerability; developing skills and abilities through education and sports to improve the environment and their quality of life.”

Cruz had to improvise when he learned how to play baseball. He and his friends constructed gloves out of milk cartons, bats from pieces of wood and baseballs from socks. As Cruz reached his big league aspirations, he wanted to help younger generations be able to do the same.

“I don’t want that, because they don’t have a glove or bat or baseball, they don’t go and complete their dream to become a baseball player -- or at least have a shot,” Cruz said. “I want all the kids to have that privilege that I wasn’t able to have when I was a kid.”

More recently, Cruz provided food and financial support for families in his hometown during the COVID-19 pandemic, and his foundation is building an educational and technical center to offer skills for employment and income stability.

Cruz also is involved in environmental efforts. He organizes for athletes from baseball academies to help clean up the beaches.

“We only have one planet, so we have to protect it,” Cruz said.

During a May road trip to Milwaukee, Cruz planted trees with members of the Brewers the morning of a night game as part of Players For The Planet.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to knock on doors, and they listen and they go and help,” he said.

For his years of outreach, Cruz was named the recipient of the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes “a Major League player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.” He also was presented with the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the ESPY Awards.

“I feel like I’m doing the right thing,” Cruz said. “I don’t see it like this huge thing -- I see a need. People come and ask me because I lived it, I was there, I was there when it was nothing and I know exactly what they need. I can, why not?”