Using Your Platform Beyond Home Plate
By Darren Fenster
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey ravaged through Houston.
The hurricane punched the fourth-largest city in America deep in the gut and knocked it down to its knees. The record storm left a path of destruction, putting much of its land underwater; laying many of its homes in ruins; leaving many of its people with nothing.
Around the same time, the Houston Astros were about to enter the final month of the regular season as one of baseball’s best teams, looking to finish the last few weeks playing strong as they prepared for their post-season run. And just like that, Harvey put a big wrench in the Astros’ focus. All of a sudden, the Astros were playing for something far greater than themselves; they were playing for the people of a broken city who desperately needed something to lift them up.
Upon the Astros clinching the first World Series title in franchise history, a good friend of mine who calls Houston home texted me her simple emotional sentiment, “we needed this.” Houston needed that crown. For a city that just weeks prior was drowning in the flood, the Astros became the lifesaver who gave their people something to feel really good about. Hurricane Harvey brought Houston together in tragedy, and its baseball team did the same, through triumph.
A baseball uniform transforms people into something bigger than players. Right, wrong, or indifferent, athletes are given a platform that most will never experience, simply because of the uniform they wear. And it’s that platform from which individual players and collective teams can make a difference in the world, positively impacting the lives of others.
Many, myself included, use their platform to pay it forward to help grow our game for the next generation. Personally, I feel a great sense of responsibility as a steward of the game to spread my passion for and knowledge of it to the next generation of players, coaches, and fans alike. Within that responsibility, from my platform, comes teaching life through a game. That is my purpose; the ‘why’ I do what I do in the manner that I do it.
Because of the “B” on my hat and the “Red Sox” across my chest, I am often given instant credibility by complete strangers. I am offered a voice that many automatically listen to without knowing anything about me. They care about what I have to say. To have a voice that people listen to provides an empowering opportunity to make a difference. Every single person in this world has a platform, each with their own unique chance to have impact. Naturally, some are bigger than others, but we all- in one way, shape, or form- can be the change we’d like to see in this world. All it takes is the simple decision to do so.
Not too long ago, someone else who wore “Red Sox” across his chest decided to use his platform in a manner far greater than most could ever dream…
In late September of 2016, David Ortiz completed his farewell retirement tour in his final regular season series at Fenway Park. In a pre-game ceremony, his incredible career was highlighted on the videoboard, but not a single clip came from the diamond. Rather they were of him in the community, detailing the real, lasting impression of a career that went far beyond the many things he was able to accomplish on the field. As of that day in September, The David Ortiz Children’s Fund had raised over $2 million for children in need and saved 563 lives in the Dominican Republic and New England combined. Let that sink in for a second…saved FIVE-HUNDRED-AND-SIXTY-THREE lives. Who knows the big impact Big Papi has had since hanging up his spikes, with more time to dedicate to helping others.
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon hails from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, a proud blue-collar mining town that, in recent years, had fallen on hard times with a decreasing workforce and an increasing crime rate. Maddon hated seeing what was happening in his hometown, and he decided to do something about it: he founded The Hazelton Integration Project. The organization is a “community-based effort that seeks to unite the people of many different cultures who now call Hazelton home.” Through various events, fundraisers, and initiatives, Maddon heads a group of people who have actively breathed life back into a once-dying city.
Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and Fox Sports fame wears a bowtie for every game he works on national television. But each bowtie is hardly a fashion statement; rather it’s his unique way to bring awareness to various causes, resulting in an impressive effort through The Bowtie Cause to fundraise while Rosenthal is doing his job as one of baseball’s best writers and broadcasters.
And then there’s a kid by the name of Braden Bishop, a minor leaguer coming up in the Seattle Mariners organization. Few outside of baseball probably know who he is, but many around the world already know his story because of the way he impressively uses the platform he’s been afforded by the game. Bishop’s mom, Suzy, has been stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia that hits some 200,000 people in America younger than 65 years of age. Upon learning of the diagnosis, Braden, while then still in college at the University of Washington, considered quitting baseball entirely to be closer to his mother, in a better position to help with whatever she or the family needed. Instead, he found an even bigger purpose from the diamond he loves to be on, becoming an advocate against the disease, creating 4MOM, a charity aimed to raise both awareness and funds to the fight against it. At just 23 years old, Braden Bishop has done more to help others in a matter of years than most ever will in a lifetime.
Years ago, Charles Barkley famously said, “I’m not a role model…just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” On the surface, he is right. But the reality of his celebrity, and the reality for all of us in athletics (coaches/players/scouts/administrators/etc.) is that we are given a platform from which people actually listen to what we say and watch what we do. We are afforded an opportunity that very few have, given the chance to have a positive impact on this world through those around us. That impact is a very simple choice; a decision we can consciously make like the David Ortiz’s, Joe Madden’s, Ken Rosenthal’s, and Braden Bishop’s and of the world, rather than one we ignore or even deny like Charles Barkley.
What is YOUR choice?
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.