Tigers employees follow players' community lead
Front-office members pitch in during holidays, carrying on in-season giving by Cabrera and Co.
DETROIT -- The Tigers' season ended way too early for their liking. They still ended the year with a lot to be thankful for, on and off the field, including the continued fan support from the city and the region.
As much as Tigers stars were focused on trying to give Detroit its first World Series title in 30 years, an effort that fell short in the American League Division Series, it was just as important for them to try to give back. Their efforts over the course of the year highlighted that.
The effort continued leading up to Thanksgiving, long after players had headed home for the offseason. Twenty-five members of the Tigers' front office volunteered in the week before the holiday at Focus: HOPE, a Detroit-based nonprofit group designed to help overcome poverty and racism through education and training.
Together, Tigers employees and other volunteers packed nearly 500 boxes of food to be delivered to families in need during the holiday season. Next month, they'll rekindle their annual holiday tradition by welcoming 50 foster kids and their families to Comerica Park's Tiger Club for a holiday feast and a shopping spree at Fairlane Town Center.
Tigers employees donate not only their time, but their money to help keep the tradition going. In doing so, they carry on the movement that Tigers players picked up during the season, from Miguel Cabrera to Justin Verlander and many in between.
"I think that's what it's all about," Cabrera said of his efforts, "try to give something back, give something to the community. We enjoy doing this."
Cabrera's Keeping Kids in the Game effort has become the centerpiece of the Tigers' community calendar. This year's event raised more than $250,000 in support of children's health and youth baseball programs through the Children's Hospital of Michigan, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, the Detroit Tigers Foundation and the Miguel Cabrera Foundation. The event also allowed Cabrera and other Tigers players to hang out and enjoy dinner with about 200 patients and families from the aforementioned hospitals.
Cabrera's foundation is paying off dividends in Detroit, Miami and his native Venezuela. Days after he signed his record-setting contract at the end of Spring Training, family members helped unveil a renovated ballfield in his Venezuelan hometown of Maracay. It's one of the fields where he used to play as a kid. The foundation has also contributed to field renovations in Detroit and his offseason home of Miami.
Cabrera isn't the only Tiger who has dedicated his off-the-field efforts to help out kids. Rick Porcello, who gave his jersey number to Torii Hunter to raise money for Superstorm Sandy relief efforts in his home state of New Jersey two years ago, has made a season-long effort to help raise money for medical research toward finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, one of the most common fatal genetic disorders diagnosed in children.
Porcello's "Strike Out Duchenne" program has raised more than $85,000 for the cause over the last three seasons, including the matching donation he put up for votes he received as a finalist in the All-Star Final Vote for the last spot on the American League roster for the Midsummer Classic.
"While most young boys are out running around and playing sports, those with this debilitating disease cannot, and that is a tragedy," Porcello said at the time. "I have been blessed, as an athlete, with the ability to perform to the best of my physical abilities. None of us should ever take that for granted."
Verlander was the Tigers' nominee for Major League Baseball's prestigious Roberto Clemente Award for his continued efforts to honor and help veterans, including the Wins for Warriors program he established last year with a $1 million commitment to help provide mental health support for veterans and their families in Detroit as well as his home area of Richmond and Norfolk, Va.
During its first grant cycle, Wins for Warriors awarded $267,000 in grant funding to two best-in-class organizations: Give an Hour and The Mission Continues.
"I truly and honestly believe that this is an area that needs to have awareness," Verlander said. "It's starting to gain steam, but people don't realize how much it affects the veterans and their families, which is a big part of what I do. And I don't believe that any of us would be here playing this great game if it weren't for those great men and women. That's just my way to try to give back and help as much as I can."
Wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan missions were selected again to catch a game from Verlander's luxury suite at Comerica Park on days that he pitches.
Fittingly, one of the final major community efforts of the year came from the Tigers' closer. To remember those lost in the Sept. 11 attacks, Joe Nathan donated $50,000 to the Detroit Fire Department to help five deserving neighborhood fire houses buy much-needed equipment and supplies.
"It's a small token of gratitude compared to what they do on a daily basis," Nathan said.