Red Sox building legacy of giving back
From Boston to Japan, club deeply involved in community
BOSTON -- Walk through the door of 4 Yawkey Way, the executive offices of the Boston Red Sox, and you see something other than championship trophies or photos illustrating the recent on-field glory of the franchise.
The very first thing inside the door these days is a giant image of the $4.8 million check the Red Sox presented to the cancer-fighting Jimmy Fund from the annual telethon that took place last summer.
Yes, the Red Sox are a baseball team and probably the most successful of any in the early 21st century.
But another kind of legacy is being built. It is one of selfless acts in the community, not just in Boston, but all the way to the Dominican Republic and Japan and various other places.
"It is certainly, at the beginning and end of the day, it's a baseball team, and we play baseball," said Susan Goodenow, vice president/public affairs for the Red Sox. "But when you talk to different people and they have stories about the Red Sox as it relates to their father and their grandfather and grandmother -- it's part of a family storyline. You want to be proud of what's part of your family's storyline. For us, it's not just on the field but it truly is also making sure we're out and we're in the community."
The Red Sox might have fallen just short on the field this year, getting eliminated in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. But off of it, goals weren't just reached, they were exceeded.
In 2008, uniformed members of the Red Sox -- from players, to manager Terry Francona to coaches -- made a record 541 community appearances on behalf of the club, some 369 that took place during the grind of the season.
The team leaders in this category? Dustin Pedroia, the American League Most Valuable Player and also knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the longest-tenured member of the team. Pedroia and Wakefield each made 30 appearances. Francona and first baseman Kevin Youkilis made 28. Captain Jason Varitek rounded out the top five with 25.
"We don't want to be a checkbook charity," said Meg Vaillancourt, executive director of the Red Sox Foundation. "We want to be someone who says to be people old, young, rich, poor that everybody has something to give. Sometimes time is the most precious thing you have to give. When that happens, it inspires other people to do something."
Much like a fierce lineup or a stingy pitching staff, charitable deeds can be downright contagious. That is the way it has been for the Red Sox since 2002, when the new ownership group led by John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino vowed to make a big impact in the community.
That is something that a lot of owners would say as part of a mission statement, but the entire Red Sox franchise -- from the ownership trio to the front office to the dugout -- has backed up that mission with action.
|"We don't want to be a checkbook charity. We want to be someone who says to be people old, young, rich, poor that everybody has something to give. Sometimes time is the most precious thing you have to give. When that happens, it inspires other people to do something."|
|-- Meg Vaillancourt, executive director of the Red Sox Foundation|
Manny Delcarmen recently held a charity bowling tournament. Josh Beckett had one during the season.
Mike Lowell held one of the most entertaining charity endeavors back in Spring Training, a dance competition with the "All-Stars" that just about every Boston player attended and participated in. Pedroia stole the show, drawing barbs from teammates and laughs from the fans in a night to remember.
Sox players might get a rest from baseball during the winter, but many of them stay active with charity all year long.
Sometime in the next few weeks, the Franciscan Hospital for Children is going to unveil a baseball field that they refurbished with the name "Wake's Field" in honor of Wakefield.
"That's not him paying for it," reminds Vaillancourt. "That's them saying thank you because he's done so much."
The Red Sox Foundation and the community relations department are engines that run all year long.
As of mid-November, the Sox had made 4,604 in-kind donations to non-profit organizations during 2008 in the form of autographed baseballs, photos, etc.
With still a few weeks remaining in the year, those donations had raised $372,272.30 for charity.
"The Red Sox Foundation, it's raised over $29 million now," said Vaillancourt. "That's just in five years, so that's pretty incredible, especially since it came from zero to nothing. I think if you some other team's community reports, they're very proudly proclaiming that over the last 10 years, they've given away a million dollars or two million dollars, and that includes tickets. This is $29 million in cash that's going out to the local community."
And as much as the money is needed, the actual gestures can steal the show.
The Red Sox Foundation has four cornerstones -- education, recreation, social services and health.
One of the most compelling events the Red Sox were involved in this season was in August, when Covidien, a major sponsor of the Red Sox Foundation, hosted a volunteer day at the Brockton VA, a place that soothes the mental health for returning vets and paralyzed vets.
It was there that members of the Boston Red Sox -- from Lowell to Wakefield to Jonathan Papelbon to Mike Timlin to Justin Masterson to Francona -- got to see the rolling Red Sox in action.
The rolling Red Sox are a group of vets that play impassioned softball games from their wheelchairs on a cement surface. Lowell and Papelbon were among those who pitched.
Wakefield stood off to the side, in utter awe.
"These guys are amazing, these guys are real athletes," Vaillancourt remembers Wakefield saying to her.
To say the day was humbling for the Red Sox would be an understatement.
|"If we can create that kind of feeling that people are part of a team, not just standing in the stands and rooting for the color of the jersey that they want to win but rooting for their community, and rooting for children in their community, rooting for people in disadvantaged areas, that's going to make us all stronger."|
That event in Brockton, Mass., was about a lot more than a softball game.
"They were playing on a surface that was very uneven and broken and didn't have lines," Vaillancourt said. "With Covidien's help as the sponsor, we went in and resurfaced the blacktop, relined it, gave them Majestic, donated jerseys so they're really now the Red Sox, and we spent a day with 200 Covidien volunteers. There were three guys who were on R&R back from Iraq who spent one of their 10 days off working on this project, in addition to fixing the weight room, the softball fields, the baseball field, the gym and other things and cleaning the pool area.
"All of this is sort of their physical therapy, so if we could rehabilitate the physical space, they would have a better chance of rehabilitating themselves and their lives. We had nine players who came and Terry, and they pitched to them, and worked with them and they all said, 'Let me work,' and a lot of the players' wives came and helped out, too."
Helping the military was an increased objective of the Red Sox in 2008. In the season-opening trip to Japan, Curt Schilling, Timlin, Wakefield and Bryan Corey (no longer with the team) took a helicopter ride to a U.S. Army base called Camp Zama and visited with the soldiers.
In June, the Red Sox announced a Seats for Soldiers program in which season ticket holders were given the chance to donate their tickets to a specified game to members of the United States Armed Forces.
"We've been very fortunate to be able to connect with the military," said Goodenow. "With Seats For Soldiers, we got a chance to bring over a thousand servicemen and women here to Fenway, and their families."
Some of the more interesting programs the Red Sox are involved in are going a long way to broaden the horizons of kids.
Take, for example, the Lindos Suenos Program.
"We just had our fifth year this year," said Goodenow. "You take 12 kids from the Massachusetts area, go down, match them up with 12 kids from the Dominican and you spend two weeks down there and you do a social service project in the morning and you play baseball in the afternoon. [Former Major Leaguer] Jesus Alou is down there, so the kids get to learn baseball techniques from him. They get to learn from him the history of baseball both in the U.S. and the Dominican."
The Red Sox created a similar exchange program with Japan this year, sponsored by Funai.
"It worked unbelievably well," said Vaillancourt. "[Hideki] Okajima came out and did a clinic on the field, which we hadn't told the kids about because if it didn't happen we didn't want them to be disappointed. But he came and he spent three hours on the field on his off-day at a clinic with them. [Daisuke] Matsuzaka did a meet and greet with them before the game and he kept throwing balls up at the Monster.
"They really got to know America and American culture and this year we're going to bring 12 Boston kids to Japan and that will be interesting. We'll do Saturday schools for six weeks before they go where they learn something about the culture and the history. It's not just about baseball. It's really about saying we live in a global world and Japan can be part of Red Sox Nation, too, and we welcome that."
The Red Sox Scholars Program, in which 25 $10,000 scholarships are awarded annually to fifth grade students in the Boston Public Schools has also been a huge hit.
Looking to 2009, the Red Sox will continue to push forward with their existing programs and probably create new ones.
"Really when we say we're going to harness the passion of Red Sox fans, there's a heck of a lot that we haven't harnessed yet," Vaillancourt said. "We've sort of just begun. If we can create that kind of feeling that people are part of a team, not just standing in the stands and rooting for the color of the jersey that they want to win but rooting for their community, and rooting for children in their community, rooting for people in disadvantaged areas, that's going to make us all stronger. It's going to make our community stronger. It's going to make us all feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Nothing bad can happen when you realize you are a part of something like that."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.