Reliever J.J. Putz and high school students from coast to coast joined an Action Team teleconference in November to share their reasons for being thankful during the holiday season and to discuss their experiences as part of the Players Trust's national youth volunteer program.
12/16/2010 4:17 PM ET
Putz joins Action Team teleconference
New D-backs reliever enjoys reaching out to community
By Lauren Iwanow / MLBPLAYERS.com
Founded by the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Volunteers of America, the Action Team connects high school students with Major League Baseball players to promote youth volunteerism. Since 2003, more than 26,000 Action Team student volunteers in 150-plus high schools nationwide have helped improve the lives of over 111,000 people in need.
A community role model who recently signed with the Diamondbacks, Putz learned the importance of volunteering by following the lead of older teammates first at the University of Michigan then in professional baseball.
"People just don't realize what's going out there and [what] donating your time means to other people," Putz told the students, reminding them that volunteer efforts big and small have the power to make a difference.
"A perfect example is when my team went to visit some of the wounded guys at military hospitals when we were playing in Washington, D.C.," he recalled. "One of the moms broke down in tears when we got done talking to her son because she couldn't believe that we would actually take the time to go visit somebody who just got back from the war."
"She wrote us one of the greatest letters that I've read in my entire life about how much this meant to her son as they focused on his recovery," Putz said. "It almost brings you to tears when you're reading it. I mean, these veterans didn't even know who we were, and it just meant so much for us to take the time to go visit with them and listen to their stories."
Putz said volunteering with the Chicago Action Team was an unforgettable experience and that he'd like to take on a similar role in Phoenix.
"There are a lot of players who really enjoy working with the Action Team," Putz said. "Last year we went to plant trees, and it was just really neat to spend time and talk with these kids. Every single time we get to go out and do something, it definitely means a lot."
Eleven captains representing the November Action Team of the Month from Queens Vocational and Technical High School in Long Island City, N.Y., joined Putz on the call and reinforced the idea that making a difference in peoples' lives is a fun and personally rewarding experience that can bring community members closer together.
To date, the Queens Action Team has provided homework help for children with incarcerated parents and distributed pumpkins and candy at a safe Halloween haunted house experience for kids. The Action Team captains also coordinated an annual Thanksgiving dinner to welcome back alumni members, and they are looking forward to partnering with the New York City Parks Department to host a baseball fundamentals clinic for area youth.
"I've been on the Action Team for four years, and we've done something different every year," said one student. "It makes a difference. It makes me feel good about myself, and I feel like I'm helping people. It just brings the team together and it's been a good experience."
The students from Queens Vocational and Technical High School share a bond that is unique to their Action Team: They are all baseball teammates. The students from Queens believe that volunteering has not just made them better people but better baseball players and teammates as well.
"When we volunteer together, it shows that we're more than a team," a student said. "It helps us grow and then we all get along perfectly and know how we work together by the time the season comes. Volunteering helps us to not only become more like a family, but to play like a family as well."
Putz encouraged the Action Team captains to continue giving back to their local communities, especially during the holiday season.
"I think that no matter who you are, every single time you go out there and donate your time, it has a special place in your heart," Putz told the students. "The most rewarding thing is to know that you're helping people and making a difference.
"I applaud you guys for the time and effort you give on a consistent basis. It does not go unnoticed. I know that all of the guys that I play with know about the Action Team, and they just think it's a tremendous gift that you guys give to the community. Keep up the good work."