Major League Baseball, the Players Trust and State Farm are joining with Habitat for Humanity to build nine houses in the tornado-ravaged communities of Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., as part of a project called the All-Star Build. Two of the new houses will be framed outside Kauffman Stadium in the backdrop of the 2012 All-Star Game.
"What happened in the Midwest and Southeast regions affected every one of [baseball's players], some of them more personal than others," said Timothy Slavin, director of business affairs for the MLB Players Association. "But for all, it gave them a chance to give back by doing their part to help communities that suffered and continue to suffer from incredible losses and devastation."
Tornadoes struck both communities in the spring of 2011, and while the destruction has moved off from the front pages and television broadcasts, the road to recovery is still a long one.
Joplin's mayor, Melodee Colbert-Kean, as well as Tuscaloosa incident commander Robin Edgeworth, were on hand at Wednesday's press conference to give descriptions of the devastation still facing their communities.
"We still need you. We need everybody. We need the volunteers. We need anyone who has chipped in to chip in again because we have a long road to travel," said Colbert-Kean.
Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur echoed the mayor's sentiment.
"A month or two later, the whole outside world kind of forgets what they go through. It's yesterday's news story," Francoeur said. "But for people that live around here, for people that live around Joplin it never goes away: the memories, the pain."
Baseball's connections to these two communities are strong ones. Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams are all from the state of Alabama, as are current players Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, Juan Pierre and others. Joplin was once the home of Mickey Mantle when he played for the Joplin Miners.
Also, Joplin used to host the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, a showcase for young high school players. Many current stars, such as Francoeur, Andrew McCutchen, Clayton Kershaw and B.J. and Justin Upton, played in the event. During the tournament, Joplin families opened their doors to the players, acting as host families for a few weeks.
This isn't the first time baseball has contributed to the relief efforts following natural disasters. A similar project with Habitat for Humanity was undertaken in 2005 and 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, resulting in the construction of 33 homes in Louisiana and Mississippi. The Players Trust has also donated to relief efforts in the wake of recent disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan. After the tornadoes that hit Joplin and Tuscaloosa last year, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association donated $200,000 toward relief efforts.
Major League Baseball is hoping that the exposure surrounding the All-Star Game in Kansas City will cause people to donate to the cause.
"As millions of fans from around the world descend upon Kansas City at the ballpark and at FanFest, and millions around the globe will be watching the game, we hope this exposure will provide and inspire additional support," said Tom Brasuell, vice president of community affairs for Major League Baseball.
It was an anecdote from Royals announcer Steve Physioc that framed the situation best.
Physioc told the story of a conversation between him and his mother regarding his belief at the time that his job didn't have much significance in the grand scheme of things.
"She was raised in New York City, and she was raised during the Depression and also during World War II," Physioc recounted. "And she said, 'All I can tell you is Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium were completely packed because people need somewhere to go to get away from the tragedy and the misery that was taking place in their life.' She said, 'Major League Baseball is very important to the healing of America.'"
More than half a century later, Major League Baseball is trying to do its part to help heal America again.
"Baseball is a family," Brasuell said, "and families help others when they are in times of need."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less