Porcello, Tigers display holiday spirit year-round

Porcello, Tigers display holiday spirit year-round

DETROIT -- Rick Porcello respects baseball traditions as much as any player. As a 20-year-old kid in the Tigers' rotation, he went through the usual rookie rituals, including the dreaded costume day, never minding that he was one of the main reasons the team was contending in the division race in the first place.

When Porcello struggled the next season, he accepted his midseason demotion to Triple-A Toledo and answered the questions about his dreaded sophomore slump, not once complaining. Nor did he complain about being left out of the postseason rotation last month.

Porcello had to know as soon as Torii Hunter became a Tiger that his No. 48 would naturally be heading Hunter's way. He managed to turn it into a positive, and hopefully improve some lives in his storm-damaged home state of New Jersey.

It wasn't orchestrated, this number exchange. The way Hunter described it last week, it was more of a reaction once it became clear Hunter was heading to Detroit.

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"I met him like four years ago, five years ago," Hunter said last week. "We had good conversations. I called Rick Porcello, and I told him that I wanted to -- you know, veteran guys usually give a nice dollar amount for a number. So I offered him a nice dollar amount. And he said, 'No.' I'm like, 'What's wrong with him?'

"Rick Porcello ... you know what, he's from New Jersey, and Hurricane Sandy came and destroyed some parts of New Jersey, and he knows some people that were affected by it. He said, 'The money that you offered me, could you donate it to this organization for Hurricane Sandy [relief]?'"

The idea caught Hunter off-guard. Even when he agreed to it, he offered to give Porcello a gift in return.

"That's the kind of guy Rick Porcello is," Hunter said. "And he really gave me No. 48. I'm like, 'Are you sure you don't want anything? You're OK?' He's like, 'Yes, I'm straight.'"

Porcello swapped 48 for 21, the number he wore when he was a high school star at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. It was a fitting switch for a gesture that hits so close to home.

Porcello is Jersey-born and raised. When Mike Trout talked on MLB Network last week about the young baseball talent coming out of New Jersey and impacting a sport dominated so much by players from the Sun Belt, Trout mentioned Porcello.

He could've moved someplace warm for the offseasons a few years ago, after the Tigers signed him to one of the most lucrative contracts for a player drafted out of high school, but he chose to stay. He makes his home near Chester Township in the central part of the state.

Porcello's home was spared the most serious damage from Sandy, he told the New York Daily News. Others weren't so lucky, including areas he knows quite well. No sooner had he arrived home after the World Series, his team swept in four games, than he saw the kind of real-life struggles that make baseball seem trivial.

Porcello has stepped up to help storm victims in the past. When Hurricane Irene ravaged parts of Vermont, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote this week, Porcello was the first Major League player to donate to a relief fund to help out farmers who had lost everything. Porcello reportedly is familiar with Vermont through family vacations.

Sandy, however, hit home.

"Being from New Jersey, I've been looking at opportunities to help," Porcello told the Daily News. "I've seen the impact the storm had, the devastation it caused. I wanted to try to make some difference and when Torii made his offer, this was definitely one way. We're putting something together for the relief efforts and I'm going to be giving back as well."

Though Porcello has rarely been visible in giving back to causes, he's deeply involved in causes he cares about. He donated his time and effort this summer to raise money for Team Joseph, a nonprofit organization focused on funding research to fight Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Porcello is also active with the Detroit Tigers Foundation, which awarded more than $100,000 in grants to local organizations to help provide opportunities for kids to play baseball and softball, among other causes. The foundation also donated than 50,000 game tickets to deserving charitable organizations over the course of the season, partnered with Think Detroit PAL to host a tee-ball league for 450 kids in Detroit, and teamed up with the Youth Development Commission to host the Detroit Tigers Hometown Championship for over 600 area tee-ball, baseball and softball players.

Also teaming up with the Detroit Tigers Foundation was American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, whose Keeping Kids in the Game event raised more than $200,000 to support children's health and youth baseball programs. Cabrera also recently established his own foundation with his wife, Rosangel, to provide opportunities and kids and their families to thrive through baseball.

Cabrera was one of several Tigers players who took part in the Fantasy Camp for Kids, a one-day clinic giving 50 youngsters with special needs the chance to improve their baseball skills alongside Major League role models. Afterward, Cabrera made a donation to the Miracle League of Michigan for registration scholarships and field improvements.

Cabrera's participation in the Autographs for a Cause program, signing fan mail in exchange for donations to his foundation which he matches, led to $11,200 to donations to charities supporting children.

Tigers organization members will be active this holiday season to help brighten the time for the needy. Forty members of the front office volunteered time to package 60,513 pounds of food to be distributed to local agencies supporting children and families in need. In addition, the Tigers and SportService will treat foster care kids and their families to a holiday feast in the Tiger Club at Comerica Park as well as gifts.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.