11/24/2004 10:00 AM ET
Champions off the field, too
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
|Pitchers Mike Timlin (left) and Tim Wakefield share a laugh during the Jimmy Fund Radiothon at Fenway Park. (Brita Meng Outzen/MLB.com)
BOSTON -- The year that will live forever in the history of the Boston Red Sox had plenty of moments of glory that weren't captured by a world-wide television audience.
Some of the best work the Red Sox did in 2004 -- the year they finally won the World Series for the first time since 1918-- was done not on the field, but in the trenches of the community.
From Boston all the way to the Dominican Republic and several places in between, and in hospitals and playgrounds and plenty of other places, the Red Sox used their clout as a legendary baseball franchise to make a genuine difference in the lives of children.
But as the calendar closes toward the end of the year, the Red Sox, from a community relations standpoint, have even more of a bounce in their step. For, as Dr. Charles Steinberg, the club's executive vice president/public affairs, puts it, they have a new story to tell.
"It adds jet fuel to this effort to reach out and unify the community," said Steinberg. "Baseball has this wonderful ability to unite people. It doesn't matter how old you are, how rich you are, it doesn't matter where you live, it doesn't matter what you look like. Baseball can bring people together."
When you look at what the Red Sox did in October, becoming the first team in the history of baseball to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in the postseason, it can serve as a metaphor for life. The Red Sox proved, at least in their walk of life, that perhaps anything is possible.
"We now have a story that we must tell to the children of the world, because unlike fairy tales that they're often taught, this one was a true story that the world watched together," said Steinberg. "And it can teach children wonderful lessons that can guide them and future generations. It's nothing short of that. It may be the greatest story in the history of baseball. So your community relations effort, which was already at full speed, just got the opportunity to hitch a ride on a rocket ship."
Truth be told, the Red Sox were already on quite a ride off the field before their heroics on it became the stuff of legend.
At the forefront yet again was the club's unique relationship with the cancer-fighting Jimmy Fund, which set records for support in year No. 51.
The third annual Jimmy Fund Radiothon on the team's flagship station (WEEI-AM, 850) -- held on Aug. 27 -- raised $1.5 million. Players like Tim Wakefield and Mike Timlin participated in the day-long event, as did general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
"It's almost impossible to try to calculate the value of what the Boston Red Sox do for the Jimmy Fund, especially in a year like this one," said Mike Andrews, the former second baseman for the Sox and now the chairman of the Jimmy Fund. "Every time the Red Sox are seen in a positive light, so is the Jimmy Fund -- they just inspire people to support us."
Dating all the way back to Ted Williams, the Red Sox have always had players involved with the Jimmy Fund. Wakefield has carried that responsibility proudly since joining the Sox in 1995.
"There are lots of egos [in baseball], and everyone knows it," said Wakefield. "So knowing these kids really keeps me grounded. I can't tell you how humbling it is to visit them. All they ask is to make them smile, and just putting a smile on their faces might save a life."
The Red Sox didn't merely stand pat with their most traditional of chartable endeavors. Instead, they continually pushed forward with new and meaningful ideas.
There was one in particular from 2004 that stuck out for Steinberg.
"There were some groundbreaking efforts this year, no doubt about it," said Steinberg. "One of them would be Lindos Suenos, and that was a quiet project that had such a wonderful impact. For the last two weeks of July, a group of Red Sox front office people arranged for 12 Boston teenagers to fly down to the Dominican Republic and play ball every afternoon with 12 Dominican children.
"And every morning, all 24 engaged in community service by building a baseball field that they completed by the end of the second week in a little village called El Mamon, and, by building a daycare center -- a small daycare center -- in the same village. And that village is next door to our academy that we opened last Dec. 9th."
By embarking on Lindos Suenos, the Red Sox lived up to principal owner John W. Henry's vow on that December day when the Dominican baseball academy was unveiled.
"John Henry promised that we would do more than just sift through the Dominican field looking for talented players," said Steinberg. "He said we would be active participants in the Dominican as well. So this project which was funded privately by a philanthropist who had this vision of joining children under one sun to play together and work together, was a great, groundbreaker."
While the Red Sox had plenty of MVPs on the field, Steinberg suggested the same was true with the team work displayed in the Lindos Suenos project.
"Tom Moore, from our professional scouting department, made a lot of the arrangements. Kerri Moore (Steinberg's assistant) and Vanessa Leyvas (manager of community relations), were working with these children every day," said Steinberg. "Vanessa, who is bilingual, was teaching them English, so she's teaching English to little 5 year olds in this little village, to 13 year olds that are trying to explain that they want to be a baseball player. She's trying to explain that they also have the ability to be a physician or a lawyer or a businessperson. We fell in love with these kids."
The Red Sox have four active phases at work in their efforts to help children. The first, category one, is children's health.
The work with the Jimmy Fund is front and center in that category. In addition to the radiothon, the Red Sox once again sponsored the Pan-Mass. Challenge, a bike race that raised $20 million for the Jimmy Fund in 2004. The club has agreed to be the presenting sponsor again for the PMC next year.
Category two is children's education. The Red Sox Scholars is the lead program in that category.
"Red Sox Scholars blossomed in year two," said Steinberg. "There was a second class of 25 sixth graders, meaning we now have 50 kids, 25 in sixth grade and 25 in seventh grade, all of whom have scholarships of $5,000, plus the interest that accrues for college."
The third category is children's recreation, which features -- what else -- baseball. In a program designed for urban children, there is a rookie league, an RBI league and a Boston area church league.
"In the church league, children play Saturday doubleheaders with pastors as coaches and district attorneys and police as umpires," said Steinberg. "That was bigger than ever in its third year."
The final category made its debut this year, which was tackling difficult, urban social issues.
"John Henry single-handedly saved the day as the Red Sox Foundation made a $50,000 donation to the Dimock Community Healthcare Center in Roxbury [Mass.], literally saving many of the programs that treat some of the toughest issues among urban teenagers," said Steinberg. "We now have all four marquee programs flourishing and all four received some, or all of their funding from the Red Sox Foundation."
The final ingredient that makes the Red Sox's work in the community so effective is that the three leaders of the ownership group (Henry, chairman Tom Werner and club president/CEO Larry Lucchino) all make charitable endeavors a high priority, as do so many of the players who made the team World Series champs.
Curt Schilling, the ace who helped win the World Series with his badly ailing ankle, continued to devote much of his time and energy to finding a cure for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). So did Timlin.
Wakefield continues to do his "Wakefield Warriors" program, in which he hosts several children from a local hospital for every Tuesday night home game.
Catcher Jason Varitek was heavily involved with Children's Hospital and always seems to be visible in the community. Ditto for right fielder Trot Nixon, who has been property of the Red Sox since 1993. Center fielder Johnny Damon co-hosted a golf tournament for the Franciscan Hospital, along with Wakefield.
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez and heavy-hitting designated hitter David Ortiz personally organized a fund to raise more than $200,000 for those who were victimized by the flood in the Dominican Republic island of Hispaniola. The Red Sox played a considerable role in helping the players in that effort.
Now, as the World Series champions relish the after-glow of their heroics, Steinberg sees the bar being raised for the efforts in the community.
"Now what you do is you capitalize on the world championship and take advantage of the doors that it opens to let your community outreach be even stronger and deeper," Steinberg said. "You validated people's faith and you taught them that, 'Keep the Faith' is more than a slogan. It's a valid, life attitude."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.