Cubs' Barrett donates to Lee's charity
'Swinging for Sight' campaign helps Project 3000 fight LCA
MESA, Ariz. -- Michael Barrett has hit 16 home runs in each of the last three seasons, but this year, the Cubs catcher is motivated to do more as a gift from his 2-year-old daughter, Grace, to Derrek Lee's daughter, Jada.
Barrett and Lee, teammates on the Cubs, have joined forces in an effort to find a cure for Lebers Congenital Amaurosis, which has affected Jada and resulted in the loss of vision in one eye. Together, the players have created a new fundraising campaign, "Swinging for Sight."
Barrett will donate $10,000 for every home run he hits in the 2007 regular season to Lee's Project 3000, and the Cubs catcher kicked off his fund-raising efforts with an initial $50,000 donation on Friday. A 2005 Silver Slugger winner, Barrett is one of only two players at his position to hit more than 10 home runs in each of the last five years.
"You talk about generous donations to different causes, and this is something the Barrett family is more than honored and privileged to support," Barrett said on Friday. "We think a lot of Derrek and his family. We've been scratching our heads this offseason on how to help Derrek's foundation and Derrek's cause and Project 3000 and the 1st Touch Foundation and find a cure for LCA."
Project 3000 was created by Lee and Boston Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck last September in hopes of finding a cure for LCA, a disease that has touched both of their families. The main emphasis of their program is to find every man, woman and child affected with LCA, projected to be 3,000 people.
Lee's daughter was diagnosed with LCA on Sept. 14, and he took a personal leave from the team to be with his family.
"When he called us this offseason and offered to do this, it was touching," Lee said. "We don't even know how to thank him. It's such a great reach-out by him to our family, and not only our family, but everyone with LCA. The donation his family is going to make is going to go so far to the research department in finding a treatment and ultimately a cure."
"Beyond that, it speaks volumes of the person Michael and Stephanie [Barrett] are," Lee said. "They wanted to reach out and help. It means a lot to me to have Michael as a teammate and, more important, as a friend."
Young Grace and Jada, who will turn 4 in April, have become close friends.
"When Jada and Grace are in each other's presence, Jada wraps her arms around Grace," Barrett said. "I started thinking, 'When I do something successful on the baseball field, when I hit a home run or something happens, Derrek is the first guy in the dugout to come up to me and congratulate me.' There's a parallel there that I love."
"Every time I come in the dugout this year from hitting a home run, which is the best thing I can do as an offensive player, I want to give that up to him and his family," Barrett said.
"If you ever saw Jada hug my little daughter Grace, you'd know there was a special connection there," Barrett said. "This is a humongous burden on the Lee family, and we feel we can help out and help carry this burden a little bit as friends, and we'll do everything we can."
Lee's 1st Touch Foundation is selling bracelets to raise money and awareness, and Chicago artist John Hanley is offering a portion of the sale of prints of the first baseman to the cause. Barrett's home run-related donation will hopefully spark more awareness.
"We're still trying to find people who have LCA and get them tested and get the genetic testing they need," Lee said. "The awareness is huge, the funding is huge. It's amazing how far $50,000 can go. Then, you can hire a specific person for one task and that speeds up the process. Michael's donation not only will bring awareness, but I don't think he understands how big this is for us."
When Jada was first diagnosed, Lee took a leave from the team. He devoted himself this offseason to raising money and awareness.
"It's not a burden," Lee said. "It's time-consuming, but it's something that has to be done. I feel it's my responsibility. If I can't do it as her father, who is going to do it? I'll come to the field focused on my job here. And when I go home, I'll focus on my daughter."
Joining the 500 already tested by the University of Iowa, at least 20 people have been tested for LCA since Lee began his efforts.
"We still have a long way to go," Lee said. "We're not going to stop until we get it done."
Lee joked that he'll be in the batting cage, helping Barrett with his swing.
"I hope to hit 50," Barrett said. "I wish I was a home run hitter. It'd be more of a generous offering. More than anything, [finding a cure] is something that we hope will happen."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.