Red Sox let generosity do all the talking
Community work comes easy for first-rate organization
BOSTON -- If you examined the situation too quickly, you might have thought awards season had passed the Red Sox by in 2009. There was no Most Valuable Player, no Cy Young, no Rookie of the Year and no Manager of the Year.
But upon further review, there was the type of recognition that far transcended what happened between the lines over the course of a 162-game regular season. In a variety of ways, the Red Sox were recognized for the all-encompassing work they do in the community.
On Nov. 3, ace Josh Beckett was lauded as the 2009 Champion Award winner by Children's Hospital Boston. Two weeks later, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship.
And back on Sept. 9, the Red Sox Foundation -- the team's official charity -- was given the 2009 Steve Patterson Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy. That was an award that every team in professional sports was eligible for, yet the Red Sox received that immense honor.
Of course, from the players to the organization, this type of work is not done for awards. It is done because that is the type of infectious attitude the Red Sox have developed in recent years when it comes to giving back -- not just with money, but with time and thought.
Beckett is one of several players on the Sox who has his own foundation.
"I just think as you get older, you become a part of other people's events and start realizing how much of a difference you can make just with basically being the face of something," Beckett said. "I think it was probably when I got to Boston, probably about halfway through my first year in Boston, is when I really realized that, 'Hey man, I can make a difference, I can help make a difference.'"
If the Red Sox fell a little short of their ultimate goal on the field in 2009, being swept out of the American League Division Series after a 95-win season, they went above and beyond off of it. The acts of goodwill stretched from the ownership to the front office to the players to the players' wives to countless others behind the scenes, including a ton of volunteers.
"There is a real bond -- there should be a real bond between every baseball team, the city, the region and the community and where it's located," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "It's even more special here because of the history, the tradition, the passion, the overall centrality of baseball to life here. We get more support, so we should be giving more in the way of involvement."
And they do.
As of mid-November, the Red Sox's players and uniformed personnel had made 520 appearances on behalf of the club in the calendar year. Kevin Youkilis, perhaps the team's best all-around hitter, was the leader of the crew with 38 appearances. Manager Terry Francona was second with 30. Reliever Manny Delcarmen (28), veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (25) and catcher/captain Jason Varitek (24) rounded out the top five.
"I say it every year, but our guys are just so cooperative. We have an amazing group of guys," said Sarah Stevenson, manager of community/player relations for the Sox. "They're willing to do anything. They sort of 'get it.' There's so many guys starting foundations. They've taken it upon themselves to just go and do stuff. It helps us out quite a bit."
If you survey Fenway Park during any batting practice before a game, you are bound to see groups of children -- many of whom are either battling their health or are underprivileged -- being entertained by some of the most recognized members of the Red Sox.
Slugger David Ortiz initiated two new ticket programs in '09. Papi's Pals gave tickets for young patients from Massachusetts General Hospital three times during the season. Papi Cares was a season-long ticket program that helped families who were going through financial difficulties.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon also started a new program this year. Papelbon's Pen purchased tickets for children in New England group homes. Francona unveiled a program in which he purchased tickets for every Sunday home game for active military members and veterans.
Those programs supplemented the ones that have long been in place. Wakefield's Warriors has become a decade-long force, in which the knuckleballer entertains patients from the Jimmy Fund and the Franciscan Hospital during pregame festivities of Tuesday home games. Tek's 33 is the program in which Varitek purchases tickets for patients from Children's Hospital twice a week. And Youk's Kids is a once-a-month program when the star first baseman purchases tickets for various children's organizations in Boston.
The players are just part of what makes the club's charitable endeavors such a smashing success.
If there is something the Red Sox Foundation can do to help or enhance, chances are they are already doing it. Take, for example, the most compelling new program of 2009, called Home Base.
It was the idea of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner to aid service members affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The Red Sox have vowed to help provide diagnosis and clinical care for veterans with PTSD and TBI, while offering support and outreach to the families of the affected veterans.
The idea came to Werner after the Red Sox -- coming off a World Series championship the previous season -- went to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in March 2008.
"It starts on a very personal basis," Werner said. "We recognized when we all went to Walter Reed. While we were there, we learned what an epidemic post-traumatic stress disorder is. I think now people are probably a little more sensitive to it because of the tragedy at Fort Hood. We decided we have to do something. Here in Boston, there's probably a wealth of psychiatrists who, if you harnessed their wisdom, could actually come up with a program that could actually make a difference. The Red Sox would like to play a role in that, because I think it could destigmatize it. Soldiers are reluctant to admit they've got psychological problems, so the Red Sox can play a role."
And it is a cause the Red Sox are going full throttle ahead with in their support.
"The Red Sox Foundation has committed $3 million over three years, and that's by far the largest single board grant we've ever made," said Meg Vaillancourt, the vice president and executive director of the Red Sox Foundation. "I think it speaks to Tom's commitment. He doesn't have a veteran in his family. He doesn't have a veteran's background. He just appreciates the service that they give, and feels somebody who puts themselves on the line for all of us deserves the best care they can get, and it's shameful that they can't.
"Tim Wakefield has been awesome about it. Terry Francona has been great about it. I know that a number of other players and their wives have said that they're going to get engaged in it. We're really looking forward to ramping it up. The services are available now at MGH. We will officially open the Veterans Clinic early next year."
Keeping with their increased focus on the military, the Red Sox have volunteers who have put together thousands of care packages to troops in Iran and Afghanistan, many of which have been reciprocated with heartfelt thank-you cards.
While the Red Sox have come up with plenty of innovative ideas of their own, they took one from the White Sox this year -- that being the 50-50 raffle.
"I tip my hat to the White Sox, because they did it first," said Vaillancourt. "There's nothing more flattering than imitation. They gave us a little tutorial, and we had volunteers here serving 50-50 raffle tickets and raised half a million dollars. Of course, our fans ended up with half of that, taking home prizes."
The way the program works is that volunteers sell raffle tickets from two hours before the game until the fourth inning, and a computer-generated number is drawn and posted on the scoreboard. Of whatever amount of money was collected that night, half goes to the fan whose lucky number was chosen and the other half to the Red Sox Foundation.
"This is a painless way of raising money for charity," said Vaillancourt. "For us, it's all volunteer. It's amazing that 81 games a year, we can have 25, 30 volunteers who show up and do this."
The Red Sox look at each home game as a way to make an impact in various ways.
"Eighty-one-plus times a year, we open up our doors, and we have very big moments," said Susan Goodenow, vice president of public affairs for the Sox. "I think it's also the little moments. It's the ticket programs. It's the opportunity to highlight medical All-Stars on the field every Friday. It's getting a chance to celebrate people and heroes every time we open up the ballpark, so we take those opportunities to do that.
"And we also then take opportunities to really highlight some of our big cornerstone programs and create new ones, too. So it's that balance we create throughout the year. We get a chance to reach a lot of people a lot of different ways and give everybody sort of a special moment here at the ballpark, and even away from the ballpark. When they can't get here, going to the Jimmy Fund, going to Dimock [Community Health Center], bringing the Red Sox to them if they can't come to us."
The one thing the Red Sox Foundation and the team's community-relations department won't do is sit still. Even before Thanksgiving, there were brainstorming sessions planned to come up with more community ideas for 2010.
"At least for the team charity, we want to deepen the programs we have," said Vaillancourt. "We want to deepen the roots of the program we have and leverage those relationships so that they get more support since the economy is sliding and money isn't as available.
"I think for the team, the ambition is always to give more value for the money -- the hard-earned money they spend to come into Fenway Park. Whether that's on the field, whether that's pregame entertainment, whether it's concessions, whether it's the fan experience you get from the employees who greet you, everything across the board, I think our ownership has a commitment to say, 'We're going to increase the value you get.' That permeates every staff level. We've got the message loud and clear. We know that people are here. They spend a lot of money to be here. We want to make sure they have a good time."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.