Whether right or wrong, the Cubs’ commitment to winning has been called into question over the past several years. One thing that’s never been in doubt, however, is the team’s involvement in the community through various service projects and Cubs Care, its charitable fund.
Then again, it’s easy to dismiss corporate charity as some sort of hustle or dodge, much the way Dr. Peter Venkman treats science. Those cynics among us might point to the tax advantages and good PR and see the motives of big business as anything but altruistic.
We can debate all day on which shade of gray the Cubs fall between the black and white of selfish and selfless, but I doubt there’d be as much disagreement when it comes to the foundations set up by individual athletes. Many a player has been touched by a particularly cause and has then used notoriety and wealth to bring attention to it.
Ryan Dempster’s Dempster Family Foundation was established in 2009 to “have a positive impact on an underserved community in need.” Only a few months later, Dempster’s daughter Riley was born and the foundation’s goal came into focus.
Little Riley struggled to breath or swallow without assistance and her parents quickly learned that she was afflicted with the little-known 22q11.2 (22q) Deletion Syndrome (aka DiGeorge Syndrome or Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome (VCFS).
22q is a disorder caused by a small missing piece of the 22nd chromosome, and though it is the second-most-commonly-known chromosome disorder (Down’s Syndrome) and can be the cause of nearly 200 mild-to-serious health and developmental issues in children, most know nothing of it.
Through his foundation, Ryan Dempster is seeking to change that. The foundation’s belief is that 22q is not nearly as rare as what public knowledge would make it seem. Their initiatives seek to increase knowledge and diagnosis of this disorder.
One issue that I’m sure we’d all love to see diagnosed far less often, however, is cancer. No one knows this better than Anthony Rizzo, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 18 during his first season of professional baseball.
His trials and status as a public figure drove Rizzo to become a role model for cancer patients and their families, which is why he started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012. Through various events and even the sale of autographed art prints, this organization is making a difference.
Rizzo has grown in prominence, quickly becoming an overwhelming fan favorite in Chicago. Likewise, Ryan Dempster was beloved for what he brought to the Cubs as both a closer and starter, if not so much his Harry Caray impression.
It was no surprise then that the team sought to bring Dempster back into the fold as a member of the front office when his playing days were done. Big business or not, the Cubs operate very much like a family, and that includes the people they bring onto the roster as well.
It’d be foolish to say that Jon Lester’s community involvement is what earned him a $30 million signing bonus, but you can be sure it didn’t hurt either. In fact, it’d not be a stretch to say that the mutual charitable interests of both club and pitcher played a role in his choice to come to Chicago.
Like Rizzo, Lester came up through the Red Sox organization. Like Rizzo, Lester was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma as a young minor leaguer already overwhelmed by just making his way through the system and trying to get a shot at the Bigs.
As a result of his own battle and victory over cancer, Lester joined forces with the NVRQT Campaign specifically to raise funds for pediatric cancer awareness. Now partnered with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, NVRQT is aiding in the fight for a cancer-free childhood.
Through the foundation’s online store, you can purchase patches, wristbands, and even Jon Lester-autographed baseballs, all emblazoned with NVRQT. The site encourages groups to hold events in their own community to rally support and awareness.
But Jon Lester was neither the Cubs only offseason signing nor the only one involved in fighting cancer. The bearded, flame-throwing Jason Motte was signed shortly after Lester was formally announced as a Cub.
While he’s not faced a battle of his own, Motte and his family have been impacted by cancer and he and his wife Caitlin sought a way to help others in a similar position. What started as a need for blankets at a local hospital turned into The Jason Motte Foundation to “[provide] comfort and care where there is a need for those affected, either directly or indirectly, by cancers of all kinds.”
To that end, Motte’s foundation has partnered with 108stitches.com in the sale of “K Cancer” t-shirts to raise funds. He’s even partnered with other players from all 30 MLB teams (Rizzo is the Cubs’ representative) in order to spread the message across the country.
Prior to his signing with the Cubs, I knew little of Jason Motte beyond his impressive fastball and glorious beard. But the more I learn, the more I like the guy. The same goes for Jon Lester, whose quiet confidence and no-nonsense demeanor will fit right in in Chicago.
It’s said that laughter is the best medicine and that winning cures all ills. Thing is, the Cubs’ inability to combine those concepts has left them in a state of entropy these last few years. There have been plenty of laughs, but, even though something as simple as more cowbell might work on some fevers, the Cubs have not yet been able to fill the proper prescription of victory.
By adding Lester and Motte, not to mention Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero, and other veterans to the youth movement that’s already well underway, doctors Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are hoping that they’ve put together the right combination to start changing the prognosis on the North Side.
Fans are likely to be much more pleased with what they see from the Cubs on the field this year, but no matter where the team finishes in the standings, you can guarantee that it’ll have a winning record off the field.
Sure, you can probably employ a group of n’er-d0-wells and no one will care as long as you’re contending for titles. But throw Ian Stewart and Milton Bradley onto a team that fails to meet expectations and you torpedo both performance and the goodwill of the fanbase.
In constructing this new version of the Cubs, Epstein and Hoyer sought players who could serve as foundational pieces for more than just the time they spend in uniform. Overcoming 100+ years of futility is a huge task, but it’s not nearly as daunting as taking down a foe like cancer.
The Cubs have assembled a group of fighters, but they’re also guys fans can be proud of no matter what the scoreboard says in the end. It’s almost too good to be true. For the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to Cubs baseball, particularly when it comes to the new guys and what they bring both personally and professionally.
Is it February yet?