Successful '08 helps charity efforts
Twins' run at division builds momentum for offseason fundraising
MINNEAPOLIS -- The goals for the Twins year after year don't change significantly. They involve striving for success both on the field and off it -- with the accomplishments in the community likely bringing the most joy.So in a year in which the Twins defied expectations by being a surprise contender in the American League Central race, it's still the charitable efforts by the organization that have provided the biggest smiles.
The Twins, in conjunction with the Twins Community Fund, contributed $5.3 million to Upper Midwest, Southwest Florida and Latin communities in 2008. In addition to that sum, the fundraising efforts of current and former Twins players helped to raise more than $1 million for nonprofit organizations."I think we had a very successful year in the community on many fronts," said Kevin Smith, the Twins executive director of public affairs and executive director of the Twins Community Fund. "Obviously, with the way things are going now with the economy, we can always do better and we hope to in '09, but I think our Community Fund programs did very well in hitting areas of need and helping people as best we could." The Twins Community Fund has had the same basic mission since its inception in 1991: to help kids grow into healthy, productive adults through an association with baseball and softball. That's why it's no surprise that one of the fund's biggest initiatives continues to be the Fields for Kids program, which helps to build and renovate ball fields. In 2008, the program granted $223,760 to aid in the repair of 49 ball fields in the Upper Midwest. And since it began in 1999, the program has given away more than $1.3 million to improve over 372 ball fields. "By renovating ball fields, we're hoping that organizations can attract kids back to ball fields and off the streets," Smith said. "Kids that are busy, whether it's with recreational, organized or ad-lib sports, are a lot better off than kids who have idle time." In addition to the Fields for Kids program, the Twins have also promoted youth baseball in the following ways: Hosting the Twins Youth Clinic program, which visited 37 Upper Midwest communities and nine in Southwest Florida this year. The program provided free baseball and softball instruction to more than 6,000 young people. Providing grants totaling $120,000 to the Minneapolis and St. Paul park and recreation departments to operate the Twins Rookie League and RBI inner-city youth baseball and softball leagues. More than 6,000 kids took part in the leagues this year. Donating 15 scholarships totaling $2,900 that were given to youth interested in attending a summer baseball or softball camp. Many of the Twins have participated in helping promote the efforts of the Twins Community Fund, but some have taken on the mission a little more personally. This year, Justin Morneau initiated a program called "Morneau Fields for Kids" to work with the Twins Community Fund in helping fund youth ball field renovations. In late September, the first baseman helped to break ground on 33 Field in Northeast Minneapolis. Morneau donated $11,000 -- $100 for each of his 110 RBIs from the 2007 season -- to the project. The Twins Community Fund then contributed $10,000 as part of its yearly contribution to the city's RBI grant program. Catcher Joe Mauer, who was the 2008 Carl R. Pohlad Award winner for community service, also took steps to making baseball more accessible for local children. He held the Diamonds in the Rough Golf Classic this past spring to raise funds for ball fields and leagues in his hometown of St. Paul. "It's unbelievable the steps they've been taking to help these efforts," Smith said of the players. "We're very fortunate to have players who have stepped up and raised funds in awareness for a lot of causes in the community." One such player includes this year's Roberto Clemente Award nominee for the Twins, Michael Cuddyer. Along with serving on the board of directors for the Twins Community Fund, the outfielder has been a spokesman for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. Cuddyer held his second annual Celebrity Waiter Dinner at Morton's Steakhouse in Minneapolis this past August, and the proceeds from ticket sales and both the silent and live auctions raised about $35,000 for the Boys and Girls Club. The players' wives also were involved in the local charity efforts. As part of Twins Military Appreciation Day on July 5, the wives collected more than 1,400 pounds of new and used baseball equipment for Minnesota military families and troops who are serving in Iraq. Over the course of the '08 season, the Twins Wives Organization donated nearly $80,000 in grants to various organizations. The charitable efforts don't end when the season does either. The offseason is often one of the busiest times for the club. The Twins hold an annual Holiday Week of Giving in December, and the largest fundraiser for the Twins Community Fund is also the team's annual fan festival, TwinsFest, which is held every January and features 50 former, current and future players. And while the Twins might not be playing when these efforts take place, there is no doubt that the previous season definitely has an impact on the club's ability to raise funds. "Successful years on the field turn into a lot of momentum going into the offseason," Smith said. "And that's definitely been the case this year."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.