In position to help, Blue Jays teammates feel duty to lead community efforts
By Alexis Brudnicki
Special to MLB.com |
TORONTO -- All they needed was for someone to point them in the right direction.
Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, two of the most talked-about players on one of the hottest teams in baseball right now in the Blue Jays, are at the top of the Major League world. And if not for some guidance and a nudge down a couple of correct paths early on, they might not be here.
The 34-year-old outfielder, a six-time American League All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, earned a scholarship to Chipola College after high school, thanks in part to the Latin Athletes Education Fund, operated by Donald Odermann.
Donaldson, currently an AL MVP candidate and a two-time AL All-Star, grew up mostly without his father and turned to coaches, teachers, family friends and others to stay on the right track.
Now they want to do for others what was done for them. Donaldson raised over $80,000 for the Jays Care Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto on Sunday with his inaugural BaseBowl charity event. Toronto's right fielder started the Bautista Family Education Fund, and has been offering college scholarships to student-athletes for four years now, with 30 currently enrolled in his program.
"If you would have told me that I would be what I am today when I was 18, just because [of] a scholarship, I would have called you a liar," Bautista said. "I don't know what the path is going to end up for any of these kids. All I know is I'm bringing them an opportunity that if our help in both guidance and financial aid wouldn't be there, they might not even explore.
"That's more of what the purpose of my foundation is, giving kids an opportunity, and in some cases maybe even a choice, because a lot of times kids don't have any other choice. Some do, and this would be another choice, but at least they [get] to make one now to know how they're going to move forward in life."
Donaldson didn't have a choice at just 5 years old when his father Levon went to prison, where he remained for the next 16 years. The native of Mobile, Ala., felt limitations because of his situation, but was steered down the road that eventually led him to athletic stardom because of some exceptional people in his life. He hopes his charitable efforts will help children across Canada in a similar fashion.
"I grew up in a single-parent home, and it's something where, as a child I realized there are restraints when that's going on," Donaldson said. "Now I've been able to be put in a position to where I can give back to the community, and give back to children who are in need. [BBBST] is a very well-run organization, and it's important to give back.
"I was fortunate enough to have a mother [Lisa] who was able to provide. That being said, I know some kids aren't as fortunate and they need help and they need some assistance and guidance. These organizations do that."
Added Cathy Denyer, the CEO of BBBST: "He shared his story, about how mentoring is important to him, and he recognized that without the mentors in his life, he wouldn't be where he is today. It's really important for him to give back to the community, especially the community in which he lives. So we're thrilled to be the recipient of that."
When Bautista began his charitable venture, he was carrying on the legacy that Odermann began, changing the fate of many young baseball players from the Dominican Republic who didn't know anything other than leaving their country as teenagers to try to provide for families at home with a signing bonus and big league dreams.
"More important to me was being able to give back in a way that could cause an impact in the future," Bautista said. "I feel that by doing what I'm doing, it's a great way to impact different communities all over the world in the future, with productive people. Hopefully with their experience in college they really learn a lot about life and grow up to be men who are going to contribute.
"We stay on top of them and make sure that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. They understand what allows them to be successful. The best evidence is their GPA. They have a cumulative 3.76 GPA [among] the guys who have graduated and a cumulative 3.4 out of the guys who are still enrolled, and I have 30 kids who are in college right now. So they get it, and they listen.
"A lot of times in life all we're missing is somebody to show us what we need to do or to guide us. The rest of my board and I have been through the process, so we know and understand everything that they need to do in order to be successful. We help them, and then also with financial aid when they need it. So that's more important, for me to give back to society - and the way that I'm doing it is giving communities productive men to go back into it."
A helping hand in the right direction is exactly what Donaldson is hoping to provide as well.
"I wasn't a part of an organization like this, but I had people all throughout my life who were able to assist me with guidance, whether it was my friends' parents, or coaches growing up," the 29-year-old infielder said. "And after several years of being away from it, you can see that definitely helped guide me in the right direction.
"It was one of those things where obviously to not have a male figure in your life, and to have other males who were there who showed they cared and gave support and would give me guidance to what is important and what's not important, is very huge."
Donaldson was one of a large contingent of Blue Jays players and celebrities who participated in an August golf tournament in support of the Bautista Family Education Fund, and Bautista was one of the third baseman's many teammates who spent his Sunday night at the inaugural BaseBowl.
"It's great what he's doing, and I wish that all my teammates had a particular cause so they could make a positive impact in all our communities," Bautista said. "At the end of the day, that's what it's all about. We're privileged and we're in position where we can, so we should. That's our duty. I see it as a responsibility. A privilege and a responsibility. So if we don't do it, who will?"
Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.