Winn leaves lasting impact on Mariners through H9 program

February 2nd, 2024
Hometown Nine Diamond Dinner photos by Ben Van Houten/Mariners

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

SEATTLE -- played for parts of only three seasons with the Mariners, but his short time here resonated strongly with him and his family and inspired him to continue leaving a lasting impact on the city and organization.

Since his playing days, which also included stints with the Devil Rays, Yankees, Cardinals and his hometown Giants, Winn’s passion for the game has shifted to community efforts, which have been mostly spearheaded by the Medea Charitable Foundation that he founded and remains the president of.

Last week, on behalf of Medea, Winn was in town following a $10,000 contribution to the Mariners’ Hometown Nine program that will help the initiative with costs for club fees to play baseball and softball, gear, uniforms, travel expenses and more. As part of the donation, Winn took part in the Hometown Nine Diamond Dinner at T-Mobile Park.

“It’s a sports program, but with a focus on the whole child,” Winn said when asked what about H9 spoke to him.

“The one thing, even when I was playing, that could get my head up from worrying about sinkers and splitters and sliders was kids ... giving kids opportunities to get outside and play. And it goes back to what I said about sports and how important they are for reasons other than becoming professional.”

The Mariners established Hometown Nine in 2020 to create access, remove barriers to participation and to build a culture of inclusion by providing mentorship, as well as financial and academic support to youth baseball and softball players.

It’s a five-year commitment to nine incoming eighth graders in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, providing financial, academic, professional and social support to encourage success in their athletic careers and educational journeys. Mariners Care, the team’s official nonprofit foundation, underwrites the playing fees for elite baseball and softball training, offering H9 fellows equitable access to competitive play.

Perhaps the most significant component -- in Winn’s eyes, and many more -- is the academic mentorship program. Through this mandatory component, H9 fellows have seen opportunities to work in baseball well beyond the playing field. Winn relates having been a non-scholarship athlete at Santa Clara University in the Bay Area.

“I was a guy that had to get to school based on grades and schoolwork and an education, so these types of programs speak to me,” said Winn, who played for the Mariners from 2003-05.

Medea, meanwhile, aims to create a vehicle to help kids be more active in sports programs while participating in their communities, doing so through financially supporting youth-oriented organizations. The parallels led to an ideal match.

H9 emerged on Winn’s radar when he was in town for the Salute to the Negro Leagues Day in June. While participating on a pregame panel with Mariners alumni, Winn also connected with H9 fellows -- which is when he took notice.

Winn returned a few weeks later to take part in the All-Star Legacy initiative with MLB, the Mariners and Mariners’ Care. Specifically, the Legacy project -- which annually seeks to leave a lasting impact on each host city for the Midsummer Classic -- helped renovate Rainier Playfield in South Seattle, adding turf to the infield of both the baseball and softball fields.

The community investment also included uniform and gear grants to H9 pilot league operators, plus a partnership agreement that includes branding and league structure.

“I've had a chance to come up to Seattle a little bit more here in the last couple of years and just reintroduce to some people I haven't seen in a while,” Winn said, “and then also ask them questions about what are they are doing in the community? What are they doing to make a difference? And Hometown Nine was one that really jumped out to me.”

At the dinner, Winn gave a speech that he hoped would hammer home the very essence of H9.

“My story is a very boring story of hard work and determination and not giving up, and how academics provided a pathway and an access point for me to have an opportunity to play baseball and basketball at the college level,” Winn said. “And I would not be a Major League player if it wasn't for my academics and the fact that my parents stressed that religiously to me, that there was no sports, getting good grades.

“That’s why Hometown Nine is so near and dear to my heart -- because I passionately believe in access and opportunity through sports and education.”