Royals step up to help fill community's needs
Players, officials put their efforts behind worthy causes
KANSAS CITY -- Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur always had a warm spot in his heart for the people of Joplin, Mo. So he was pleased that the team and, indeed, the entire Kansas City area supported the tornado-torn community.
The 200-mph tornado -- which ripped a wide path through the town on May 22 -- destroyed homes, businesses and schools, and caused 161 deaths. The twister struck just after the two Missouri teams, the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals, had played an Interleague game at Kansas City.
Royals Charities immediately contributed $25,000 to Heart to Heart International's emergency-response effort for Joplin and another $10,000 for Reading, Kan., which also was hit. Royals fans gave $18,000 to the American Red Cross Disaster relief fund during the next home series with the Los Angeles Angels.
The Royals also joined the Cardinals in a "Teams Unite for Joplin" fundraising campaign, and throughout the season encouraged fans to make donations to the recovery. The teams held online auctions and sold "Teams Unite" patches and t-shirts. Royals alumni and players from the Northwest Arkansas affiliate made a goodwill trip to Joplin.
The Royals made Joplin the beneficiary of the annual Back to School Drive and the Coat Drive. Francoeur and his wife, Catie, headed the effort to provide school supplies for Joplin's students.
"I've got to commend Catie because she kind of took the bull by the horns on this one. She and some of the wives went to Joplin and helped out, and saw all the devastation. When she saw all that, she knew she wanted to get involved in the back-to-school stuff," Francoeur said.
Francoeur wanted to get involved, too, because he'd spent parts of two summers in Joplin (2001-02) after his junior and senior years in high school in order to play in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars program. The Francoeurs jumped at the chance to help.
"It was such a neat thing this year to be able to do that," Francoeur said.
The school supplies and donations to purchase more were delivered to a grateful Joplin School District, and went to students from kindergarten through high school.
"It helped us fill up backpacks we had, plus the backpacks that they sent. We were able to give hundreds of students different supplies that they needed," said Kristen Dudolski, assistant to the community development director for the district.
Coat-drive collections, along with cash donations, also went to Joplin.
"We're still distributing the coats, and that was nice because we were able to help the parents as well as the students," Dudolski said. "We were able to put coats on entire families. It was really great because we don't usually get a lot of adults' coats, so that was wonderful."
Francoeur stayed with the same host family, headed by Gene Russell, during his two summers in Joplin. He said the Russell family home escaped damage, but a toll was taken on many of their friends.
Remembering the great hospitality of the Russells and other Joplin hosts during his teenage days, Francoeur this summer had the Joplin Outlaws, a nonprofit college summer team, brought to Kansas City for a Royals game. The contingent of 90 included the players' host families.
"All these parents were going through hard times, helping other people. One of them lost their house. But they were still willing to host these college kids and find host families for them so they could play baseball there this summer," Francoeur said. "I thought that the least we could do was to bring them all down and let them see a game. When something like that happens, you try to give as much as you can to them and try to get their lives back to normalcy."
Other Royals players also stayed with Joplin families as part of the USA Baseball program -- Billy Butler in 2002-03 and Eric Hosmer in 2007.
"And I thought it was fitting that during the World Series, the Cardinals had a night where the Joplin kids came out and a football player threw out the first pitch," Francoeur said. "That was really neat, because that town will still be recovering five years from now."
Heart to Heart International, based in Olathe, Kan., got global exposure for its tornado-relief efforts with a Busch Stadium sign that was shown during the World Series.
Joplin was also included as Major League Baseball and the Players' Association teamed up for a $200,000 donation to tornado victims in the Midwest and Southeast.
Gordon helps fight cancer
Left fielder Alex Gordon took up a Little League team's cause in his hometown of Lincoln, Neb., joining with the Nebraska Diamond Dawgs to fight cancer, especially breast cancer, in their "Playing for Pink" campaign. The quest began after two of the boys lost their mothers to cancer.
Gordon gathered memorabilia from fellow Major Leaguers and other items that were auctioned online and at the Playing for Pink Casino Night fundraiser held in Lincoln. The money raised will be divided between the American Cancer Society and the team's entry in the 2012 Cooperstown Dreams Park National Invitational Tournament.
"These young men are truly inspiring, and I am proud to support their efforts to find a cure for cancer," Gordon said. "This is no ordinary Little League team. After losing two of their moms to the devastating disease, they have chosen to stand up and speak out, and that is remarkable."
Crow serves meals
Other community efforts by the Royals included the sixth annual Thanksgiving celebration at the City Union Mission in Kansas City. All-Star pitcher Aaron Crow joined Royals associates in serving meals to folks, many of them homeless, at the men's and family centers.
"It was good to get out here and help all these guys," Crow said. "I'm fortunate enough I don't have to deal with this, so it's nice to help these people who are less fortunate than I am. It's always nice to give back."
Butler's power helps feed the needy
Designated hitter Billy Butler continued his Hit-It-A-Ton program, which annually raises funds to support food pantries, soup kitchen and other services provided to the needy by the Bishop Sullivan Center in Kansas City.
Butler and his wife Katie donated $250, the cost of purchasing a ton of food, for every home run he hit and $125 for each double, then enlisted corporate sponsors to match the money. This year, Butler banged 19 home runs and 44 doubles, and the center reported benefiting by $50,000. That was enough to provide 250 tons of food.
Royals Charities, boosted by several fundraising events, donated a total of $600,000 to various causes in 2011 -- and has given more than $5.2 million to the community since 2001.
The showcase event was Diamond of Dreams, held on the Kauffman Stadium field and chaired by club president Dan Glass and his wife, Penny. It featured an extensive silent auction and raised $200,000 for Operation Breakthrough.
Other Royals Charities events:
Royals Golf Tournament, $40,000 for the Special Olympics of Kansas City;
5K Run/Walk, $50,000 for a variety of children's charities;
Shirts Off Their Backs, $18,500 for the Shirley Fund at the University of Kansas;
Broadcast Auction of ballpark experiences in the TV booth and other prizes, $185,000 for Royals Charities;
50/50 Friday Night Raffle, $50,000 for Royals Charities and Synergy, Kids TLC, Johnson County Christmas Bureau, Big Brothers Big Sisters, American Diabetes Association and Down Syndrome Guild.
The Royals gave $52,948 to the Royals Fields programs in matching grants, to renovate youth fields in a seven-state area.
The club also donated $10,000 to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to support the Buck O'Neil Centennial Celebration campaign.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.