ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays outfielder Mikie Mahtook appreciates having a platform to make a difference. That has allowed him to address a cause that is dear to him because of family circumstances.
Mahtook's father, Mikie, died of cardiomyopathy at age 32, when Mikie was only 4 years old.
"Unexpectedly. He was healthy," said Mahtook. "He'd been a college football player. He played at LSU. He was in shape. He was actually playing tennis with a bunch of doctors. And he dropped on the court and instantly died.
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"It was one of those things where he showed no symptoms. Nobody knew he had it. He played sports his whole life. It's kind of one of those freak things that happen, and nobody should ever have to go through."
In January 2015, Mahtook launched the Mikie Mahtook Foundation, a nonprofit organization named after his late father and dedicated to the education and prevention of heart disease.
"The reason I started the foundation was to honor my dad, but also to help prevent and give awareness to heart disease," Mahtook said. "I wanted to help prevent other families going through what my family did.
"Heart disease can affect anybody. It affects athletes, people who aren't active -- affects literally everyone. A lot of the diseases you can't cure, but you can prevent from happening, as long as you're aware of the preventative measures to take. You can prevent yourself from being affected by it and obviously, prevent your family from being affected by it."
In November 2015, Mahtook's foundation hosted LSU Baseball Legends for Charity, a gala that raised $110,000 for several organizations dedicated to the foundation's cause.
"It was at the big casino in Baton Rouge," Mahtook said. "We basically sold tickets and tables. We had a bunch of former players that had played here appear at the event.
"It was more of a reception meet-and-greet. We had a dinner. You could come in early and meet and talk to all the guys. We had a keynote speaker and a roundtable discussion, asking questions about our time at LSU, our time in the big leagues. Funny stories we have, basically making it kind of interactive."
Mahtook is excited about this year's big event for his foundation, which is tentatively scheduled for January.
"We're going to have a big cookoff," Mahtook said. "If you know anything about Louisiana, food's a big deal. I'm going to talk to a bunch of restaurants. Still finalizing the details of the event, but it's going to be something where we get restaurants to donate a booth, where they bring one or two of their favorite dishes that they want to put out there.
"We'll have a band and a deejay. Buy tickets to get in, walk around eat food and have drinks. There will be a competition. We'll have people vote, and at the end of the day, the restaurant with the most votes will get the big prize."
Louisiana is important to Mahtook. The love he has for his home state prompted him to get involved last summer in promoting Pitch in With Former Tigers to support the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which assisted flood victims. The Rays donated $2,500 to match Mahtook's donation to the cause.
"Eight or nine other professional baseball players from LSU got together and made this donation page where you could give to the relief efforts," Mahtook said. "I donated personally; the MLB Players Association was awesome. We raised over $100,000 for that, too.
"That was a team effort, we all teamed together to get money for a disaster that, for a little while, was getting zero publicity. Once people realized the severity of it, I think it was nice to give back to the people of Baton Rouge."