WASHINGTON -- What began with a trip to the zoo and a plastic bank led Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and his wife, Karie Ross, to Capitol Hill.
In that sense, it's an amazing journey that began with the Pennies for Paws program and has now branched to the Fish and Wildlife Commission's Endangered Species Fund. Yet the idea of the Detroit Tigers helping the cause of tiger preservation -- or any team with an animal mascot helping wildlife causes -- makes so much sense, it's almost surprising something like this didn't happen earlier.
"I think this is one where everybody gains," Dave Dombrowski said. "Nobody wants to see wildlife no longer be in existence. You want your children to have the same benefits we have."
It was a welcome development for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders program, which hosted the couple along with Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer and his fiancée, Erica May, for a luncheon promoting the U.S. Postal Service's Save Vanishing Species Tiger stamp and celebrating the team's efforts and donations.
The funds came from Pennies for Paws, a simple idea Karie Ross had five years ago.
"When we moved to Detroit, I took my children to the Detroit Zoo," Ross explained to the crowd, "and there was a huge display about saving the tiger. I had absolutely no idea the tiger was endangered. It came as a shock to me, so I thought, 'What can I do about it?'
"So I decided, let's try to figure out some way that the Detroit Tigers can somehow rally around this cause and help save the tiger. It's such an iconic symbol. There are tiger mascots all over the United States."
The idea was to encourage fans to donate toward the cause through a plastic bank shaped like a tiger just inside the main entrance to Comerica Park. After some research and a couple months of renderings, the bank was created and shipped to Detroit.
The name Pennies for Paws sounds small, but the results have been significant. More than $53,000 in donations through the program have gone toward tiger conservation efforts, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Wildlife Without Borders fund. The program has been successful enough that the team is hoping to place more banks elsewhere around the park.
"I want to thank Dave Dombrowski and the entire Tigers organization for showing leadership on this cause," Congressman Michael Grimm (N.Y.) said at the luncheon.
Now, the Tigers are taking another step toward helping the cause by selling the Save Vanishing Species Tiger Stamp, a special first-class stamp created two years ago through Congressional legislation to help raise money towards the preservation of tigers, elephants, rhinos, great apes and marine turtles.
The stamp costs 55 cents, nine cents more than the current cost of a regular first-class stamp. The difference goes to Wildlife Without Borders.
More than 20 million stamps have been sold over the last 19 months, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, raising $2.1 million. Congressman Grimm has sponsored House Resolution 262 to renew the stamp program, and he is inviting his colleagues to co-sponsor it. The added attention from sales could make a difference.
The stamps will be sold at the Tigers team shop inside Comerica Park, with a possibility of other locations. In addition, the stamp is available at area post offices.
"I think that is what is so great about this stamp, is that anybody can make this choice, and anybody can make an impact," said Erica May. "It's so small in their lives, but so big on other species. It's been really great for Max and I to have this opportunity to get involved on another level, so beyond what we ever thought we'd get to be involved with. We are very excited to see where this goes."
Eventually, Ross said, they'd like to get other teams involved. The hope is that the Tigers' efforts will serve as an example.
It's an example that brought the Tigers to Capitol Hill for a day.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.