11/26/08 4:00 PM EST
Yankees spreading Bronx cheer
Borough benefits from club's extensive involvement
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
As the seasons grow colder and the Yankees eagerly anticipate opening their sparkling new facility across 161st Street, change is in the air. But at the direction of the Steinbrenners, one thing that will remain constant is the club's sense of duty in giving back to the public.
"It definitely starts up top and trickles through the organization," said Brian Smith, the Yankees' senior vice president of corporate and community relations. "I would say the commitment to making an impact in our community is as strong as it is to putting a quality team on the field."
This year was another successful one for the Yankees in that department.
For the Thanksgiving holiday, the Yankees distributed 500 vouchers to local community members for free turkeys or meat products to be redeemed at local supermarkets, partnering with Turner Construction, Tishman Speyer, Tri-Line Construction and Plaza Construction, along with White Rose Foods.
The Bombers are also in the process of planning their 2008 Food Drive, looking to follow up on a staggering success from the prior year. Tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11 at Yankee Stadium, Smith said the Yankees and the Bronx Clergy are hoping to surpass last year's event, when 72,000 pounds of canned goods were brought to the club's executive offices and exchanged for tickets to future Yankees home games.
"Last year, the number was unreal," Smith said. "We couldn't believe it at the end of the day. It was really amazing."
The Yankees also donated items to local community-based organizations for their holiday parties, inviting pickups of toys for children this month at Yankee Stadium. But the giving spirit continues through all 12 months, as local outreach programs are in place to continue in the Bronx and the rest of New York City.
Through the Yankees Foundation, founded in 1973 upon George Steinbrenner's purchase of the club, funds are donated for educational and recreational programs for youth organizations throughout New York. A Community Benefit Agreement incorporated into the construction of the new Yankee Stadium will benefit the Bronx community on a 40-year basis. The first payment calls for $800,000 in annually-distributed funds.
Additionally, Smith said legacy funds from this summer's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium produced approximately $1.5 million for numerous Bronx-based and city-wide programs. The Yankees also donated approximately $100,000 in equipment to local Little Leagues and Bronx schools.
"The commitment is very important, especially when it comes to our neighbors here in the Bronx," said Smith. "We focus on a number of community-based programs that provide services for Bronx youth, dealing in areas of education, recreation and some health initiatives, also."
As the final 81 games were played at Yankee Stadium, the Bronx community was invited in. From April through September, the Yankees donated numerous promotional items and gifts to local community organizations, including upwards of 40,000 complimentary tickets to Yankees home games -- an in-demand invitation, as New Yorkers said farewell to the House that Ruth Built.
"It's a priority, to not only go out and support our area in being good neighbors, but to invite them in to see a game," Smith said.
That emphasis resounds within the organization. This year alone, the Yankees made numerous large pledges in and out of the New York area. In September, the Steinbrenner Foundation pledged $1 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help with additional construction for their sports facility, following a $1 million pledge by the Yankees in support of relief efforts for those affected by Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike.
The Yankees also played a March 18 exhibition game at Virginia Tech University and contributed $1 million contribution to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, created to cover grief counseling, memorials and other costs for the victims and their families after the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting tragedy.
In honor of Steinbrenner's continued generosity, the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Commission and the Tampa City Council voted unanimously to recommend changing the name of the Yankees' Spring Training facility from Legends Field to George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Of course, the Yankees' players are also well aware of the importance of community involvement. The Jorge Posada Foundation, to benefit craniosynostosis research, held its seventh annual gala this year in New York, while Derek Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation has raised more than $8 million since its 1996 inception to encourage positive behavior in young children and students.
Alex Rodriguez has made numerous donations in the New York and Miami areas, while Johnny Damon has been charitable with his time for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization that aims to help severely injured soldiers with their readjustment to civilian life. Mariano Rivera also lends time to a number of charitable causes within the New York City area, among other players.
"Our guys are out there, and they do things," Smith said. "One thing that we have here is that a number of our guys have their own outreach initiatives, so they're out there even without us asking."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.