More than a season of giving for Casey Blake
It’s the time of year for giving. Some, of course, are much better at it than others. And for a too precious few, giving is a yearlong endeavor.
Ballplayers are not typically renowned for their generosity. For their egocentricity, maybe, but not their philanthropy. Most go to the team-mandated functions. Some donate to a charity. Smile for the photo ops.
And then there are those, like Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake, who make giving back a part of their lives.
Blake is that too-rare item in baseball, and life, a genuinely good person. Personable, but not so that it ever feels forced. A family man, he and his wife, Abbie, are expecting their fifth child in February. Blake is someone who is concerned about his community. And someone whose community remains his hometown.
Even if it’s a small town of approximately 13,000 in south Iowa.
Blake grew up in Indianola, a quaint town about 16 miles south of Des Moines. He first grew to fame as a prep star at Indianola High School, before going on to Wichita State and later signing with Toronto.
Only Blake’s rise to the major leagues was anything but smooth — he was waived three times — before he finally stuck after signing with Cleveland in 2003. He was 29.
Maybe it’s because he had to work harder to achieve success, or that it came later in life, or maybe it’s just the way he is, but Blake has made a point of giving back.
Blake still lives in Indianola and in February he and Abbie donated $1 million to the Indianola school district and challenged the community to match it. He earned $6.25 million last season.
That’s above-and-beyond material. Yet he did not simply write a big check and disappear. Blake is active in fund-raisers to help the community match his $1-million donation.
On Halloween he participated in an Indianola haunted house. He was the guy with the bloody chainsaw.
"One night, I was kind of like the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' [movie] guy," Blake told the Des Moines Register of his job at the hometown haunted house. "My 9-year-old and 7-year-old helped out too — so it was a full family deal.
"It was a riot. I had a blast."
A few days after Christmas, he is scheduled to help with a fund-raiser a bit closer to his area of expertise. He will host a two-day baseball camp at Indianola’s Simpson College.
"Abbie and I made the donation and challenged the community, but we still want to keep helping the community and committee that’s working so hard," he said.
The local guy who made good, and then gave back, has hardly gone unnoticed locally.
"Casey and Abbie are completely committed to our community," Indianola schools Athletic Director Bernie Brueck told the Register. "He's a hometown hero and so many people look up to him. For him to want to provide so many opportunities for local kids, that's tremendous."
Blake is 37 and near the end of his big earning years. He’ll make $5.25 million this season. The Dodgers hold a $6-million option on Blake for 2012, with a $1.25-million buyout. He’ll need a better season than the one he had last year (.248, 17 home runs, 64 RBI) for the Dodgers to pick up that option.
He is looking for a comeback season, convinced he still can be the player who averaged 22 home runs and 75 RBI for five seasons (2003-08).
Meanwhile, his foundation is preparing its first project, a fieldhouse to benefit a middle school. Blake said it's coincidence the initial project is athletically related and hopes to support several nonathletic needs in the future.
He has plenty of plans, but then life’s biggest givers usually do.
-- Steve Dilbeck