Bryant, fellow stars play in charity poker tournament
Current, former greats gather in Las Vegas to give back to communities
By Doug Miller
LAS VEGAS -- Mitch Geller is a marketing executive in Los Angeles who knows less about poker than he does about baseball. But there he was at the MGM Grand Hotel on the Vegas strip on Wednesday night, winning the jerseys off the backs of real life Major League Baseball players. And having a blast doing it.
Geller took down Steven Souza Jr. of the Tampa Bay Rays, Hector Santiago of the Los Angeles Angels and defending champion James Loney of the Rays in the second annual poker tournament for the MLB Players Association Players Trust.
Geller eventually bowed out of the tourney when an all-in play backfired on him and he surrendered his chips to veteran left-hander Dana Eveland, but the unique coolness of the event was not lost on him.
"Baseball players are awesome," Geller said. "Out of all the athletes that play sports, baseball players are solid dudes. They have good outlooks on life, good philosophy, and it's just fun to play poker with them, but also just to hang out with them."
But the Players Trust is about a lot more than fun. The charitable wing of the union was established in 1996 and has now completed 20 years of giving back to communities in which players live and work. From Buses to Baseball, which brings needy children into stadiums, to action teams working with high school students about volunteering, plus global disaster relief efforts and much more.
The poker tournament, along with a Thursday event at nearby Cascata Golf Course, raises money for the Trust and gets players together during the offseason to bond over their shared love for the game that has given them so much and the chance to give back to others.
"This is one of the marquee events for the Players Trust, and having an opportunity to put an event together where our baseball history comes out to support it, with our active guys and the inactive guys, to raise money for a program that is near and dear to them, we've been fortunate that it's continued to grow," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said.
"The connection that still exists between the active and inactive guys through the Trust is something that we hang our hats on. Getting the guys together is a lot of ways just as important as what we accomplish with the event itself."
Hall of Famers Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray were on hand along with one of the Vegas-bred hosts of the event, 2015 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Kris Bryant of the Cubs. The other co-host, 2015 NL MVP Award winner Bryce Harper, was expected to unleash his vicious left-handed swing at golf balls on Thursday.
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.
"It's huge for us players," Bryant said. "It gets the word out that we do great things in the community, and this is just another resource for us to go out there and help people in need, and at the same time have some fun play some poker and some golf -- with fans out there."
One particularly special moment came at the dinner that preceded the poker tournament, when Hawkins was honored by the union and the Trust for his recently completed 20-year career. A video was played that showed Hawkins helping out communities throughout the years, and former teammates and friends such as Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Colabello and Bonilla passed along their own recorded congratulations.
"It felt awesome," Hawkins said. "You do what you do not to win any awards or accolades or recognition. You do it because that's what's in my heart. To be recognized by your peers is pretty cool."
And so was the poker, although none of the baseball players walked away with all the chips. That honor actually went to a basketball player, believe it or not.
NBA guard Landry Fields, who's rehabbing a shoulder injury, came to Vegas with a friend who works with MLB players and ended up a prestigious tournament winner.
"And I got a Kenny Lofton jersey," Fields said. "So that's awesome."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.