MLB stars raise money for Players Trust01/06/2008 4:31 PM ET
By Ben Platt / MLB.com
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Torrey Pines is the place for golf in 2008. The Buick Invitational returns Jan. 21-27, and in June, the U.S. Open will return to the West Coast for the first time in more than 60 years when it's played at this beautiful course.
But from Jan. 3-5, the Lodge at Torrey Pines was overrun with baseball stars including Ken Griffey, Jr., Ryan Howard, Mark Grudzielanek, Chris Capuano, Kenny Lofton, Brian Fuentes, and Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor and Eddie Murray, along with representatives from the Major League Baseball Players Association, corporate sponsors and invited participants. All parties hooked up in the Players Trust Golf Tournament, a two-day event sponsored by 2K Sports and the Upper Deck Co. that was held quietly at the Lodge, where players, baseball legends and executives joined in to raise money for the Association's charity, the Players Trust.
"The Players Trust was formed after the strike in 1994-95 and was an effort for the players to do some things collectively through the organization," said Donald Fehr, the MLBPA's executive director. "This is in addition to what players do individually, and it allows them to raise some money, and to donate money to some worthy causes and to do some other good things, and it started out small. And it has become significantly larger."
Over the years, the Players Trust has quietly helped make a difference in the Dominican Republic, where thousands of children are treated for parasites and vitamin A deficiency. The trust donates to more than 120 charities each year.
"I think it's a sense of pride for the players that we have put this charity together from scratch on our own," said Houston Astros infielder and trust board member Mark Loretta, who has been a longtime advocate of the charity. "I think after a dozen years, it's finally starting to take some root. Players are really starting to get involved with several different programs, particularly the Action Team, which is in 16 cities now and is getting involved with high school age kids. I think it's become a model nationwide and it's really starting to make an impact."
In partnership with Volunteers of America, the "Action Teams," whose mission is to inspire high school students and their families to become volunteers in their own communities, has become a favorite project of many players, including Griffey, who really enjoys working with his group in Cincinnati.
"I get to do all the public speaking; they have me in the public speaking department," said Griffey. "It's a lot of fun because you have some kids come in who are around the ages of 14-17 years old and they want to talk about public speaking and how nervous they are. And I tell them, 'We're nervous, too, and go out there and execute your plan and say what you have to say.' I stress to them the more you can do it, the better they become[,] and it just takes practice."
Raising money for the Players Trust is the weekend's top priority, but the players also enjoy the special camaraderie with one another that's particularly special with baseball players.
"Yeah, they start lying about what they're going to be throwing me," laughed Griffey. "The older I get, the more I keep asking for the 84-87 mile an hour fastball and I promise them I won't hit it out of the ballpark -- I'll just hit it the other way to left field for a base hit and they say 'NO!' It's great to see the guys and exchange stories and just have some fun."
With five Hall of Famers present and a lot of veteran ballplayers who turn out every year for the event, the association also actively recruits younger players to attend and learn what the Trust is all about. This year Howard and Josh Barfield joined in.
"This is my first time here and first time really getting interactive with the Player's Trust," said Howard, the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player, who starts his fourth season with the Phillies this year. "I learned a couple of new things. I learned more about what the Trust is about. It's not just about putting money away. It's also about helping other communities and helping other people. I was part of the Philadelphia Action Team along with Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and J.C. Romero, so that was a lot of fun for me to be there to help and to see the kids give back to the community, as well as volunteering."
During the tournament, at least one ballplayer would be in a group of four to five golfers who would play Torrey Pines' North Course the first day and South Course the second day. Unfortunately there were heavy rains on the second day, but the organizers had a backup plan ready to go.
"We knew when we got out here we were going to be able to have one of the two days for golf, so the staff worked very hard finding another location," said Richard White, general manager of licensing for the Players Association. "We know players like to bowl, -- they like to golf and they like to bowl -- so this move was, pardon the pun, right up their alley."
So everyone piled into a bus for a short drive to San Diego and the East Village Tavern and Bowling Alley, where the tournament resumed on the lanes. Lofton and Griffey were locked into their own private match, with Griffey one-upping his friend by simultaneously taking a call on his iPhone and, without missing a beat, bowling a strike at the same time. Murray impressed everyone there with his bowling skill, knocking down strikes almost at will.
"The people at the Player's Trust had an understanding it may rain, they called the bowling alley and they did a good job," said Lofton. "For the guys, it's always competition; they love competition and it's fun."
The participants also took part in a fund-raising auction of baseball and sports memorabilia, with all the proceeds going to the Trust. Murray was more than happy to contribute in his own way.
"I was fortunate that I was able to save the last 22 bats I used leading up to my 500th home run," said Murray, who attended for the first time. "I have no problem going home and signing one of those bats and sending it to the person who bid on it at the auction, because the money is going to the Trust and off the good work that it does."
For years, the Players Trust has been flying under the radar. Griffey and other players believe it's time to start promoting the work their charity does.
"I think we have to get Major League Baseball behind it to make it really successful," said Griffey. "When you go to a ballpark, you need to know that the Player's Trust -- these guys are going to be there and this is what these guys are about. The NFL has four or five commercials with six different guys talking about what they're doing -- we need to do the same thing. Hopefully in the next few years we can establish that as a group, and people will be going to these events and taking part."
Players and people did take part this year, raising more than $200,000 for the Trust.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.