Victorino honored with Branch Rickey Award

Victorino honored with Branch Rickey Award

Victorino honored with Branch Rickey Award
DENVER -- The notion that the local Boys & Girls Club in his native Hawaii somehow saved Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino would be romantic, but totally inaccurate. Victorino was lucky, blessed if you'd prefer, to have a more solid economic standing than many of his friends who needed such a place.

"I had friends who had things going on in their neighborhoods, and they needed to get away," Victorino said. "So I would go down, visit them, and go play. But the Boys & Girls Clubs welcomed me like everybody else. And I saw what it did for them, gave them a safe haven, gave them a place to go, something to do, whether it be playing Foosball or playing pool or playing kickball in the backyard of the facility.

"It's like the game of baseball. We all come from different cultures. I come from a little town in Hawaii, people come from Asia, the Dominican, America, and you put 25 guys together and try to win. As a kid, that's what I saw, people who came from low incomes, high incomes and everywhere in between, but we all came to have fun."

Learning that children seek, and deserve, the same opportunity sparked an approach to giving -- highlighted by a major Boys & Girls Club project in Philadelphia -- that helped Victorino earn the 20th Branch Rickey Award for humanitarian service in baseball. Victorinio received the award from the Denver Rotary Club during a banquet at the Denver Marriott City Center Hotel on Saturday night.

Victorino and his wife, Melissa, started the Shane Victorino Foundation in 2010, and the endeavor donated $900,000 to renovate the 105-year-old Nicetown Boys & Girls Club in an impoverished area of Philadelphia. The club, which is going through the final touches before reopening, has been dedicated as the Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club.

Additionally, the Victorino Foundation has raised nearly $500,000 for various charities in Hawaii, including the Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui, the Alzheimer's Association Aloha Chapter, Waipio Little League and St. Anthony's High School. Victorino has started a Toys for Tots program in his offseason residence of Las Vegas.

This past August, the foundation raised more than $325,000 through the second annual All-Star Celebrity Fashion Show, featuring Phillies players, their wives, and sports and entertainment personalities modeling high fashion. The Victorinos also offer personal and financial support for the foundations of friend Jamie Moyer and teammates Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard.

Victorino didn't just receive while in Denver. The banquet included a live auction benefitting Denver Kids, the Rotary-supported organization serving more than 1,000 students in Denver Public Schools who are considered to be at risk of dropping out of school. Victorino submitted the winning bid on a trip to Cabo San Lucas for a $3,600 donation, then announced that he would give the prize package to Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who attended Saturday's banquet.

"He's supported so many different charities, and he's been so involved," Amaro said. "He's kind of like me. I like to do the same things. Really, it's about the kids and the future of our country. For Shane and Melissa to be involved and to give back the way that they do, both of them are fantastic role models. They have great energy. We're honored to have them be part of our organization."

The energetic approach that has helped Victorino earn three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards and be chosen for the All-Star Game in 2009 and '11 carries over to his charitable efforts.

Victorino was involved with Nicetown Boys & Girls Club officials in the planning of the new building in Philadelphia. He and his wife ended up even helping with the painting of the walls. Victorino's excitement seems endless on the field, but it's even greater when he's around children.

"Even my teammates tease me," Victorino said. "When you walk into the family room after the game, half the time we're done at 10, 11 o'clock at night. The kids are winding down. People that work in the family room are trying to calm the kids down. But there's only one person who can walk in and rouse them all up, and that's me.

"The kids will all see me come into the door and say, 'All right! It's playtime again!' And I get the looks from the moms, like, 'Why?' But I gravitate to them. If you can touch a kid's life and get them to build something in the community or be a role model, it's great."

Those who know Victorino are happy those outside the clubhouse are learning about him.

"Him winning this award doesn't surprise me, because that's his passion," said former Phillies reliever J.C. Romero, who finished last season with the Rockies. "Victorino is a big kid. He enjoys playing the game of baseball and helping people. He relates to the kids. It's his comfort zone.

"I remember him saying at one point that one of his goals playing baseball is to make a difference in the kids' lives. I'm glad he's being recognized for that."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.