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Pham a star on, off field in St. Louis community

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

Tommy Pham's smile is splashed all over St. Louis. On billboards and bus stops, Pham's face has become a familiar sight beyond the walls of Busch Stadium, where more often than not he mans center field. But when the Cardinals aren't playing, Pham regularly patrols a different area, where he feels that exposure brings responsibility.

That's in the community, where Pham spends a bulk of his in-season off-days. Most of his work involves local Boys & Girls Clubs, which Pham will visit with a purpose. Important for Pham is being a role model for inner-city youth during a time in which black players make up a small percentage of Major Leaguers.

Tommy Pham's smile is splashed all over St. Louis. On billboards and bus stops, Pham's face has become a familiar sight beyond the walls of Busch Stadium, where more often than not he mans center field. But when the Cardinals aren't playing, Pham regularly patrols a different area, where he feels that exposure brings responsibility.

That's in the community, where Pham spends a bulk of his in-season off-days. Most of his work involves local Boys & Girls Clubs, which Pham will visit with a purpose. Important for Pham is being a role model for inner-city youth during a time in which black players make up a small percentage of Major Leaguers.

"St. Louis is a city where kids look up to you so much," Pham said. "Especially young black kids -- when they see someone like myself, a black athlete, a black St. Louis Cardinal, that's something that they relish. I go to the community just to say what's up to them, bring some smiles to their faces."

For Pham, who grew up "without a father figure," having athletes to look up to was vital. Though he didn't have any local teams to root for living in Las Vegas, Pham took every chance he could to watch his heros on national broadcasts. His favorite baseball player was Derek Jeter; he also looked up to Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds, football star Deion Sanders and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

"It was kind of my way out, what helped me stay on a straight path," Pham said. "For me, it was about taking the bad and making it good. Sports made it better."

Pham can relate to how his appearances feel for kids after he met Bonds last year. Pham said Bonds told him he loves the way he plays.

"That's something I'll always cherish," Pham said. "Because he was one of my favorite players growing up."

Pham began working consistently with kids shortly after he was promoted for good in 2017, making cameos at baseball camps and popping into local Boys & Girls Clubs on his days off. As the appearances added up, so did his on-field numbers. Pham emerged as a surprise star of the National League last season, hitting .306/.411/.520 with 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases. This year, he's hitting .253/.336/.409 with 14 homers and 10 steals, but his community involvement hasn't slowed.

"When I go and talk, they see someone of their skin complexion," Pham said. "I ask them, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I get a lot of different answers. But for the ones who say, 'Baseball player,' I'm someone they can relate to.

"If they see someone like me coming in and messing with them, that's something they can remember for the rest of their life. It gives them that extra motivation."

Pham sets a similar example in his personal life for his young nephew, Clayton. Clayton, the son of Pham's twin sister Brittany, texts his uncle every day. The two recently caught up while Pham sat in the visiting clubhouse in Cincinnati prior to the Cardinals' series finale against the Reds. Pham spoke glowingly of his nephew, right after outlining the details of a youth camp he was set to work in St. Louis the next day.

"I'm the male figure in his life," Pham said. "I told him to do something that will make him better every day. Whether its baseball, basketball or soccer -- do something, but don't do nothing."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com.

St. Louis Cardinals, Tommy Pham