07/02/09 2:32 PM ET
Ordonez auctions locks for cancer outfit
Tigers star raises funds, awareness for Imerman Angels
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
What began as an idea for the Tigers right fielder to lend a hand to a charitable cause with a fundraising dinner or similar event ventured into creative territory. Once Ordonez ultimately decided it was time for a change to the long-haired look that had been his trademark image -- and, in some ways, one of the images of the Tigers -- since his 2006 home run that sent Detroit into the World Series, the two inspirations connected.
The result has driven more value in terms of publicity than any fundraising would've been able to match. And in what has been a trying season for Ordonez, personally and professionally, it's one bright spot for him, because it's a bright spot for the cause.
"We've never had something to get media like this," said Jonny Imerman, founder of Imerman Angels. "It's simple, but it's unbelievably powerful."
Ordonez has rarely been one to want to draw attention. He has generally preferred to stay out of the limelight in Detroit, and is usually soft-spoken. That has especially been the case during a trying year that began with a mixed reception from Venezuelan fans during the World Baseball Classic and hit home when he took time away to be with his wife while she underwent surgery. All the while, his season at the plate has left him admittedly "embarrassed," and his future as a Tiger has been the subject of increasing speculation.
Separate from his on-field struggles, however, are his off-field causes, many of which are close to him and his family. Ordonez established a scholarship last year to support deserving students in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. He spent an afternoon as a barista at an area Starbucks location to help raise money for the Detroit Tigers Foundation's effort to renovate youth baseball and softball fields.
This latest effort, however, is altogether different.
Ordonez learned through a friend with the White Sox about Imerman Angels. The nonprofit organization not only connects cancer patients with cancer survivors, but tries to match them by age, gender and type of cancer so that people recently diagnosed can have a supporter who knows what they're going through and can serve as an example of someone who has battled and won. They supply the service for free, thanks to corporate help and donations.
Ordonez ran through ideas on how to help.
"Then one day, I decided that I want to cut my hair," Ordonez said. "That's it."
"At first," he said jokingly, "I did like a mullet."
That day, he walked into the Tigers' clubhouse with shortened hair. Hours later, his hair was on eBay, including a picture of the pile of dark locks and a photo of the newly-trim Ordonez. Word spread soon after that.
The bidding started at $5,000 and stood at $6,000 as of Thursday morning. It's a bright spot through the struggles for Ordonez, who asked each day during last weekend's series in Houston where the bidding stood.
The money will be a big help for Imerman Angels. The publicity, Imerman said, has been far more valuable.
"We were just excited that he would promote our charity and cause," Imerman said.
It's quite a story for Imerman, who was born in Michigan and grew up in the Detroit area as a Tigers fan. He was working in town during the day and studying for an MBA at night when he was diagnosed in 2001 with testicular cancer that had spread to other parts of his body. Just 26 years old, he went through five months of chemotherapy but was diagnosed with more tumors less than a year later, requiring surgery.
He has been cancer-free since then, and he moved to Chicago a few years ago. But the experience of going through chemotherapy and surgery so impacted him that he wanted to help ensure that others after him didn't have to go it alone.
"We really think every fighter, everybody battling cancer, deserves to talk to someone who has walked a mile in their shoes. It's support and knowledge and first-hand experience," Imerman said. "It's essentially proving to them that a carbon copy three years ago did it."
For example, someone battling leukemia in Michigan could be paired with someone who survived leukemia in Florida, communicating by phone and e-mail. Their goal in five years is to be able to give every cancer fighter a chance to talk with a cancer survivor within 24 hours of diagnosis.
Whatever proceeds Ordonez raises from the auction -- including the hair, an autographed bat and Ordonez's box for the Tigers' Sept. 15 game against the Royals at Comerica Park -- will go to Imerman Angels. The news surrounding it could help longer term, helping spread word of the cause to not only potential donors, but patients.
"We're a free service, always free," Imerman said. "We're just looking for awareness."
Still, the money helps, too.
"Not bad," Ordonez said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.