Expanded Roster | Dodgers’ Charitable Endeavors Warm Up a Cold Offseason for Fans
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Dodgers’ Charitable Endeavors Warm Up a Cold Offseason for Fans

By: Kylie Sparks

Fresh off back-to-back World Series appearances (including one game that might still be in progress), the Los Angeles Dodgers look to be in for an … intriguing 2019 season. They unceremoniously dumped Yasiel Puig and have apparently declined to court Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but at least they’re making philanthropic progress off the field, in both LA and around the world.

As MLB grapples with sexual and physical violence in the era of #MeToo, it’s easy for fans to feel disheartened with their franchises, and the Dodgers aren’t immune. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, then LA’s director of player development, didn’t take the proper steps in when a 17-year-old girl reported assault by Dodgers minor leaguers in February 2015, The Washington Post reported February 1. (The franchise did not respond to a request for comment, though Kapler has denied the assertion that he covered up assault.) But while there’s trouble on the corporate level in LA and throughout the league, it’s refreshing to look toward the contributions individual players are making to their communities. Many Dodgers are involved with work for the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, awarding over $1.6 million in grants to 70 nonprofit organizations in 2018, highlighted by its annual Blue Diamond Gala. The foundation benefits multiple programs in the greater Los Angeles area, including Dodgers RBI, which brings baseball and softball to underserved kids; Dodgers Dreamfields, which renovates baseball fields and parks in local neighborhoods; and LA Reads, a youth literacy project. The foundation also partners with organizations like Vision to Learn, which provides kids in low-income communities free eye exams and glasses.

In addition to the LADF, several Dodgers players, like Clayton Kershaw and forever-Dodger-in-our hearts Puig, give back through charities of their own. Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, founded Kershaw’s Challenge, a faith-based organization, after Ellen met a 9-year-old girl named Hope in Zambia in 2011; she was orphaned, HIV positive, and a survivor of abuse. Clayton and Ellen sponsored Hope through a local ministry to help meet her basic living needs and then began partnering with charities in LA, Dallas, Zambia and the Dominican Republic to help at-risk youth access health care, food, shelter and education.

While Puig is now a Cincinnati Red (adjusting to the cold), LA should still benefit from his Wild Horse Foundation, a nod to Vin Scully’s nickname for the beloved bat flipper. Puig, who defected from Cuba and risked his life just to play in MLB, has given back to others in need, visiting Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, during the holidays with former Dodgers coach Manny Mota to hand out food and supplies for 250 families and participating in activities with local youth programs.

Kershaw and Puig aren’t the only two philanthropically minded Dodgers. Everyone’s favorite goofball super-utility Kiké Hernández proved that not only can he play basically any position (though maybe he should work on that 81.00 ERA) but that he is also LA’s super-utility off the field. After Hurricane Maria decimated his home of Puerto Rico—his mother watched him hit three home runs in Game Five of the 2017 NLCS on a generator-powered TV—he knew that he and his now-wife, Mariana Vicente, needed to spring into action when the U.S. government would not. With help from the Dodgers, Hernandez raised $2 million for Habitat for Humanity.

Joc Pederson gives back with his family in mind too. The outfielder supports and advocates for his oldest brother, Champ, through their foundation, Live Like a Champ. Champ, who has Down syndrome, is a public speaker and advocate for disabled people. Joc routinely promotes Champ’s events and sports the foundation shirts and hats, whose proceeds benefit Best Buddies, an organization that matches volunteer mentors with disabled people.

But perhaps the Dodgers’ MVP of philanthropy work is Justin Turner. While his red beard and penchant for explosive home runs may be what fans know him for, Turner was the Dodgers’ Roberto Clemente Award nominee in 2017 and 2018 for his work with the Justin Turner Foundation, whose mission is to support veterans experiencing homelessness and illnesses; . The foundation also partners with organizations like the 17Strong Foundation and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and it raised over $235,000 for veterans in one day this past December during an AM570 radiothon. JTF, cofounded by Turner and his wife, Kourtney, also runs a charity golf tournament and partners with the LA Marathon, where Turner has served as the race ambassador.

That seventh straight NL West title, let alone the team’s first ring in more than 30 years, may be an uphill battle after an anticlimactic offseason. But at least Dodgers fans can say they support a team that puts their community first.