Rays awards $150,000 to local nonprofits
Rays reliever Dan Wheeler said he's glad to give back to the community, especially in tough economic times like these.
But it became even more special on Friday afternoon when he could "put a face" with the funds, as the Rays Baseball Foundation awarded $150,000 to 29 local nonprofit groups. Six players, including Wheeler, Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir, shook hands with representatives and kids from groups, from the Boys & Girls Clubs to the Children's Home.
"When your a tiny organization and the Rays step up and say, 'We'd like to support you,' it kind of makes you stand a little taller," said Heidi Akers, president of the Heart Gallery, which received $5,000. "It's enormous - it makes a very big difference...Come on, they're the Rays, they're our hometown sports team and its nice for them to give back just as as we've been coming here and supporting them all these years."
Rays president Matt Silverman said it was about a 20-percent increase what what they gave last season, and they expect to try to give more in future years, as club wants to invest into the community; he said they donated about a million dollars to the area last year. Most Rays players signed to multi-year contracts contribute to the foundation, which donated more than $600,000 to youth and education programs last year.
Akers said the grant will allow them to record the voices of some of their foster children to put on their web site, as they hope to find them all permanent homes. Some kids from groups, like 9-year-old Jacob Gubula from the Community Learning Center, had never been to Tropicana Field, so getting to hang out on the field and meet a player was "awesome."
"We're really fortunate, we really are," Wheeler said. "It put a face with what we are doing here, just kind of makes it so real and seeing these kids out here today. It warms your heart."
Rays players who contribute to the foundation attended the press conference and posed for a photo. Pictured above with representatives from the Pier Aquarium and Campbell Park Elementary, one of the grant recipients, are (from left to right) Rays President Matt Silverman, pitcher Dan Wheeler, outfielder Carl Crawford, infielder Akinori Iwamura, pitcher Scott Kazmir, pitcher Troy Percival and infielder Willy Aybar and Rays Community Relations Director Suzanne Murchland. [Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Rays]
- JOE SMITH