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11/26/08 4:00 PM EST

Amazin's use popularity to give back

TeamMets encourages fans to be charitable as club sets strong example

NEW YORK -- Back in their old offices at Shea Stadium, before the move to Citi Field, a few Mets employees were gearing up for the baseball season when an idea struck. For years, the club's players and employees had been giving back by whatever means possible. Yet the Mets realized that, given their popularity, they could be doing so much more.

And so they created TeamMets, a community volunteer initiative that uses the club's appeal to encourage fans to help others. Teaming with the Mayor's Volunteer Center of New York City, they gained access to more than 700 non-profit organizations throughout the area, providing new ways for their fans to give back. And now, more than six months after first making that idea a reality, the TeamMets initiative remains a focal point within the organization.

"We've always been involved in volunteerism," said Jill Knee, the team's director of community outreach. "But we thought maybe we'd use that platform to encourage and inspire others to do the same."

Through TeamMets, players and personnel gave back to the community this year as usual, all while encouraging their fans to do the same. And by continuing that effort, the Mets hope, they can expand their charity beyond the limits of time and resources.

That's all in addition to the team's regular set of charitable efforts, in which Mets players have continued to provide invaluable support.

"We have the great privilege to positively impact people's lives, and everybody at the Mets takes the responsibility of giving back to the community as an important part of their positions here at Citi Field," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. "Our manager, coaches and players are equally committed and are probably the most visible in what we do as an organization. Our executives and staff, business partners and fans amplify that effort in making a difference, creating additional awareness of various charities and causes to encourage involvement in our community."

The club branched out to the entire city, not just Queens, even reaching up into Connecticut and beyond. The Mets Foundation, for example, held its second annual Teammates in the Community fundraiser in Greenwich, Conn., in June, raising more than $575,000.

And most of the players who attended continued to show support for charities of their own choosing. Carlos Beltran's Harlem RBI, for example, gives inner-city youths the opportunity to play baseball and softball, fostering teamwork and societal growth. Aaron Heilman's Canine Companions for Independence is a nationwide non-profit providing assistance dogs for people with disabilities. Carlos Delgado's Extra Bases helps provide funding for charitable groups throughout Puerto Rico, and the David Wright Foundation maintains a focus on children with multiple sclerosis throughout the New York City and Norfolk, Va., metropolitan areas.

Wright held his fourth annual "Do the Wright Thing" gala in Manhattan earlier this month, and in September received the Mets' nomination for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award -- a nod to his active role within the community.

"From the moment that I got to the big leagues and realized the type of impact that I could make just by putting on this uniform on a daily basis, I wanted to do it," Wright said of the nomination. "I wanted to try to help out in as many areas as I possibly could. You put this uniform on in New York and you have a positive influence in the community, so I jumped at the opportunity."

The works of Wright, Delgado and others, of course, came in addition to the annual team efforts. The Mets raised $850,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society during their Welcome Home Dinner in April, $200,000 for Project ALS during the sixth annual "Night to Believe" at Shea, and $60,000 through sales of their GourMets cookbook. They also generated funds for the Relay for Life, the City Parks Foundation and Bring Home the Cure.

The Mets donated time, too, bringing local youths to Shea through the "Let's Go Kids!" ticket program, and renewing plans for their annual holiday party. Even players' wives pitched in, heading to a local hospital and giving makeovers to female patients on behalf of the Starlight Children's Foundation.

Due to the move to their new offices in Citi Field, the Mets were forced to put off plans for their annual coat drive, but they're hopeful that fans will donate anyway. New York Cares, their usual partner in the drive, still maintains drop-off points around the city, and the Mets are encouraging their fans to donate in that way.

After all, that's their whole focus this year. The Mets will continue to give back, and they want their fans to do so, too.

"Players aren't here in the offseason, and yet ownership is so committed to community service and getting involved," Knee said. "So it's worked pretty good."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.