KANSAS CITY -- For Jeff Francoeur and Daniel Bard, helping the communities of Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., was a no-brainer.
The Royals outfielder and Red Sox pitcher were on hand at Wednesday's news conference to announce the All-Star Build, a program that will result in the construction of nine houses in the tornado-ravaged communities of Joplin and Tuscaloosa. The project is a partnership between Major League Baseball, the Players Trust, State Farm and Habitat for Humanity.
Joplin formerly hosted the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, a showcase for high school players. Francoeur and Bard both participated in the event, as did other current players such as Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.
The people of Joplin opened their doors to the young players during the event, acting as host families for a few weeks.
"The hospitality of those people, it's unbelievable. It's just a great community of amazing people," Bard said. "When I saw they got hit so hard, it broke my heart. I've never been a part of a natural disaster like that, so I can't even imagine what they're going through. I do know that they need help and they deserve help."
Francoeur said that he's kept in touch with the family who hosted him during the tournament. He called the couple, Gene and Bert Russell, last spring to make sure they were all right after the tornado. Francoeur and his wife, Catie, are going to see the Russells during an off-day in June.
Catie Francoeur and other Royals wives visited Joplin a few days after the tornado hit. Francoeur said his wife spoke with reporters who had covered the war in Afghanistan, and they said it looked as bad as anything that had happened there.
Bard said that there are other players who are out helping these communities, as well. He said Yankees pitcher David Robertson, a Tuscaloosa native, has been down to Alabama and raised awareness through his foundation.
"There's so many other great examples of other players in the league for us to follow in their footsteps and use this platform to help people," Bard said.
Bard hopes the All-Star Build will get other people involved in contributing to Joplin and Tuscaloosa.
"It's kind of a no-brainer to use what little bit of a platform we have here, being ballplayers, to help out people that need it," Bard said. "Just getting the awareness, trying to get things rolling by building a few houses, using money from the Players Trust to try to do that. If that can kind of get the ball rolling to get people aware that this is still a rebuilding process, then that's our way of helping."
Francoeur said that he is trying to set up a baseball camp for kids in Joplin later this year with other players. He said his biggest concern is trying to return the kids to some kind of normalcy. He added that he encourages others to help in any way they can.
"I do challenge people. If you've never been, drive a couple hours over there and meet the great people of Joplin and get involved. I know it changed my life, and I'm sure it will change yours," Francoeur said.
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com.