MIAMI -- A little more than a month after dominating on the postseason mound, Twins right-hander Pablo López showed off his pickleball skills for a good cause.
López hosted Pickleball for Pets on Nov. 16 at Miami Shores Tennis Club, combining two of his interests into a charity event with proceeds benefiting local organization Paws4You Rescue.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, López tried pickleball for the first time and stuck with it. He jokes that his baseball offseason is his pickleball season, playing once or twice a week. He and his wife, Kaylee, adopted their dog, Bennie, during the 2019 offseason. López, who didn't have pets growing up, said it was love at first sight. Over the last two years, Kaylee has donated dog toys and supplies to Paws4You Rescue, which brought three of its 90 dogs in the hopes of being adopted, according to founder Carol Caridad.
"We have things that we like, we have things that we enjoy, other than playing sports that we play," López said. "As an athlete, I enjoy all kinds of sports. Tennis has been one of them, but it's too risky to play tennis. It's a lot on the body. So pickleball is a tiny version of tennis, less stress on the body, but you can still have the same amount of fun. And that was one of my passions.
"And ever since Kaylee and I got our dog four years ago, we developed this kind of love, care for animals, for pets, for cats, for everything, and then we just thought it was a cool idea to try to make happen. Just like fuse those passions and make something fun, something cool out of it. And we partnered with such a cool place that takes great care of animals, and they were willing to bring a couple of dogs here to hopefully find their forever home. We just saw it as a great opportunity to really make it happen, something that's a passion of ours, and then hopefully create something good for the community."
Though López no longer plays for the Marlins, he still lives in South Florida during the offseason. He considers it a responsibility to give back to the community. López hopes the event can expand next year -- and perhaps even have some iteration in the Twin Cities.
A drizzle couldn't stop López from taking turns playing singles and doubles matches over three hours, bouncing from court to court with participants. Their donations included the rare chance to square off against a professional athlete and enjoy food and beverages. The philanthropy couldn't come at a more perfect time, as Thursday marked Give Miami Day, one of the nation's biggest 24-hour annual giving events, an online campaign where residents can donate to local organizations or causes.
"I am blessed -- just like a lot of MLB players -- to have this amazing platform to have all such amazing resources that are made available to us, and I think just taking advantage of the opportunity to make something that is a passion for us, something that can be nice for the community, to happen," López said. "It's very important, and doing it here in South Florida, I played for the Marlins for five years, I call my offseason home here in South Florida. So I think this community has given me so much. It's just a little bit, but giving back feels right."
Attendees made sure to congratulate López on his career year in 2023. With time, he has been able to soak in all that he accomplished during his first season with Minnesota. Funnily enough, he credits his dog, Bennie, who often attended Bark at the Park games in Miami or Spring Training exhibitions, for keeping him humble, honest and in the moment.
"Unforgettable," López said of 2023. "Obviously, I was a little heartbroken when the season ended, because I was hopeful. We had such a good team, we had some good momentum going after breaking the postseason drought and all that. So I really thought we were going to go further. That wasn't the case. So for like the first 7-10 days, a little like nostalgic about it, but now that it's been a while, it was just an unforgettable year for all kinds of reasons.
"Getting to know the Twins community, being part of Twins territory, the way the season went, ups and downs. But the resiliency was there to make sure five days from now, I'm going to take the ball and give it my all, and the results started to come as I stayed true to my process. And now that I've had time to reflect, it was a year that I'm proud of, and it gives me motivation to try to make the next one even better."