Players Trust hits jackpot with inaugural poker tournament

Current and former stars raise money for MLBPA's philanthropic endeavors

Players Trust hits jackpot with inaugural poker tournament

LAS VEGAS -- Bud Norris hasn't been with the Orioles for very long, but the events of Wednesday night showed he's been there long enough.

During a brief break in the heated action during the inaugural poker tournament for the Major League Baseball Players Association Players Trust at the MGM Grand Hotel on the Vegas strip, an opportunity presented itself.

Active big league players, including the Baltimore starter Norris, Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins, Yankees pitcher Chris Capuano, Rays first baseman James Loney and many others, joined retired legends such as Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Eddie Murray and former All-Stars Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton, Eric Davis, Reggie Sanders, Eddie Guardado and Bobby Bonilla, among others, at the tables to raise money for the Trust and its many philanthropic avenues.

The players wore their jerseys, with the rule that they would have to take them off, sign them, and hand them to whoever knocked them out of the competition. If that didn't happen quickly enough, there were occasional on-the-spot auctions. O's legend Murray's jersey came up for bidding, and Norris smartly ponied up, landing a souvenir for a lifetime.

"No-brainer, right?" Norris said with a smile. "Just awesome."

Norris and Murray posed for pictures while the buy-ins, antes and big blinds continued around them. The poker tournament was added to the annual golf tournament that benefits the Players Trust -- a charitable wing of the union that was established in 1996 -- and moved to Las Vegas for the first time. The players teed it up at the exclusive Shadow Creek Golf Club on Wednesday morning.

"The trust started out as such a small entity in 1996, and here we are, it'll be 20 years in 2016," Capuano said. "It's just grown into an amazing organization that gives so much back to communities that we both live and work in. Buses for Baseball -- bringing kids into stadiums that wouldn't normally have that chance, Action Teams working with high school kids about volunteering in their communities and helping them out in their efforts, all the way to global international disaster relief.

"So the Players Trust is really helping people from all walks of life all over the globe, and it's just a great cause for us to be involved in."

The MLBPA was well-represented in Las Vegas, with executive director Tony Clark on hand as well as special assistant Winfield, chief of business affairs Tim Slavin and special assistants of player services Bonilla and Jeffrey Hammonds.

As is always the case with any fundraising efforts throughout the winter and through the season with their many personal foundations, the players involved with the midweek getaway saw the big picture behind the harmless fun.

Guardado, for example, has a foundation for autism care and research, and he used to host his own poker tourney in Vegas. That has evolved into a bowling event in Anaheim.

But while the former star closer, who was known as "Everyday Eddie," might not have been every-hand Eddie on Wednesday night, he was all-in.

"It's competitive," Guardado said. "In every sport, any time you want to be successful, you're a competitor. Poker brings that out in ballplayers. That being said, we're nowhere near as good as the pros in poker. I watch those guys on TV. They're good.

"We're not."

For Hawkins and Bonilla, the attachment to events like this boil down to a simple feeling of responsibility and gratitude.

"I'll always support them, because they've always supported me," Hawkins said. "I've got a lot of great friends in the Players Association, and when I'm done playing, I'll always come back and give back to the organization that's given me so much."

Added Bonilla: "It's nice to be able to do this. All of the active players, as well as retired players, really do a tremendous job contributing to the Trust, so we're really happy.

"It's a fun group, and we are and were all very lucky to play such a great game."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.