Youth of the Year Foley visits Fan Cave
'Club kid' shares story of childhood with resident fans over lunch
NEW YORK -- Nick Foley graduated last week with honors from Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, and this fall he will begin majoring in civil engineering at Penn State. He is in the last few months of his reign as the 2011-12 Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth of the Year. He has had breakfast with members of Congress, hung with celebrities like Denzel Washington, even sat in the front row at Game 3 of the last World Series and saw Albert Pujols point directly at him in a gesture that meant: "Yes, I will hit a third home run."
To understand how remarkable all of that is, consider how it all began as a boy in Boston. His is one of the best stories in Major League Baseball right now.
"I had a pretty rough childhood," Foley told the seven resident fans as they shared lunch Friday downstairs at the MLB Fan Cave. "My parents were pretty rough. They had drug issues, alcohol, all that. I ended up being abandoned by my parents when I was 6 years old. My dad had already left us. My mom ... we were homeless for a while, living in random shelters, on the streets and stuff. Eventually, she just didn't come home one day.
"So I ended up going through the foster care process, which I am really thankful for. I didn't have anywhere to go at the time and they finally took me in. Eventually some of my family members stepped in, and they brought me back into the family after about a year. That process led me down to Pittsburgh, where I was adopted by my two mothers now. I was in Pittsburgh about two weeks before they brought me to my Boys & Girls Club, the Sarah Heinz House. When I first walked in, it just felt right. I grew up on the street with a lot of kids, but this new area was kind of in the middle of the city, and there weren't a lot of kids around, so when I walked in and I saw kids running around, I just knew it was that place for me.
"My parents always joke that when I left that night, I looked up to them and said, 'I feel brand new.' I'm a 7-year-old kid and I don't even remember saying this. But after all the years of doing everything and seeing everything it has done for me, everything that has brought me to where I am in life and has given me all these opportunities, it truly has made me a new person and given me a great future."
Then Foley added as his voice choked up: "I'm proud to be a Club kid. I'm proud of the example of the tagline here: 'Great futures start at Boys & Girls Clubs.'"
Big names come and go all the time at the MLB Fan Cave, and on Saturday, it will be some players from the Reds stopping by. The season marches on. When you talk to Nick Foley, you cannot wait for time to march on. Every new day is his bright future, unfolding. You listen to him talk and you wonder what he will become, where he will lead.
He is the definition of possibility, and he represents not only millions of what he calls "Club kids," but the essence of MLB's relationship with B&GCA. It is a relationship that goes back for generations at the team level, and B&GCA is now in its 16th year as MLB's official charity. Both parties operate on three-year terms, and the current term ends this year.
Tom Brasuell, vice president of community for MLB, and Frank Sanchez, vice president at B&GCA, were both present for Foley's Fan Cave visit and both indicated to MLB.com that the "perfect" relationship will be extended.
"Their three pillars are very much the same thing that the Commissioner wants us to focus on," Brasuell said. "One is character, two is education -- making sure they finish school -- and three is making sure kids have a healthy lifestyle. We support all three of their pillars."
As the National Youth of the Year, Foley has traveled extensively, and he will be in Europe during All-Star Week. Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Clubs will be heavily represented next month in Kansas City. There is a B&GCA presence year-long in MLB, and All-Star Week is especially visible. Brasuell recited many of their roles:
"The kids who bring the ball out to start the All-Star Game. The kids who open up All-Star FanFest. Holding flags at the Futures Game. They'll be the representatives who get paired up with players in the State Farm Home Run Derby. They'll be paired up with the mascots in the Mascots Home Run Derby at FanFest. There will be some shaggers. There is just an unbelievable array of opportunities the kids will get from Boys & Girls Clubs."
There is, however, one question about the status of a key B&GCA member. Center fielder Bralin Jackson was drafted in the fifth round by Tampa Bay earlier this month. He is the Greater Kansas City Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, and as such, he was scheduled to deliver the ball to the mound to start the All-Star Game. But he just signed on Wednesday.
Someone will handle that duty. There are so many "Club kids" involved with MLB now. And so many of them have a similar story like Foley's to share.
"At Boys & Girls Clubs, we aspire to help kids have a great future," Sanchez said, as Foley went down the giant orange slide. "Nick is an example of that. As a young boy, the circumstances he overcame led him to a Boys & Girls Club at the age of 7. The loving family he got there, the programs and activities that allowed him to feel safe and give him a sense of hope, have molded him to become the great young man that he is now."
Foley, resplendent in navy suit with a royal-blue pocket square, left the Fan Cave and delivered a message to parents on his way out:
"If you have a kid who's looking for something to do, anything, just really get involved," he said. "Boys & Girls Clubs truly change lives and truly make a difference in youth. ... Thank you for everything Boys & Girls have done for me, thank you to Major League Baseball for all they've done for the Boys & Girls Clubs and the youth who are a part of them."