Dirk Hayhurst may never be a household name, but the Blue Jays pitcher told Action Team volunteers that ordinary people have the power to make a major impact as much as professional athletes.
04/07/2010 3:31 PM ET
Dirk Hayhurst inspires Action Team
Jays righty shares his experiences of helping those in need
By Lauren Iwanow / MLBPLAYERS.com
As the March guest on the Action Team's monthly conference call, Hayhurst explained that even before he reached the Majors he understood that "the opportunity to make an impact with the platform of professional sports is present immediately."
"As a baseball player, as an athlete really, you become sort of an icon," Hayhurst said. "You're an entertainer, people know you, you have a platform. Sport is a platform and it is a platform that our culture takes very seriously. Whether you know it or not, as an athlete, you have a voice on that platform. And many would say that it's our responsibility to take that platform and that voice that we have through sports and use it for a positive impact."
Hayhurst, who doesn't have the star power of previous Action Team teleconference guests like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira or Shane Victorino, learned first-hand at a homeless shelter that reliance on his celebrity status wasn't going to be sufficient and certainly isn't the only way to affect the lives of those in need.
"My entire life up to that point in the shelter had kind of revolved around the thought process that being famous made me important, and that I could somehow touch people with that fame and make their problems go away," Hayhurst told the students.
"So, there I sat in this shelter with a stack of baseball cards, watching beleaguered, bedraggled people people come in looking for food, and I tried to offer them a signed card to make them feel better. And one gentleman -- I'll never forget this -- he stared at me when I offered him a card and he said, 'What will that do for me? It's useless. What I need is someone to care about me.'
"In that moment, I realized that it didn't matter if I was famous or not. What mattered was that I was willing to bridge the gap and care about another human being. It's something all of us can do, whether famous or non-famous, and I really wish more of us would do it."
The recent earthquake in Haiti provided the inspiration for Hayhurst's most recent charitable efforts. Hayhurst used Twitter to collect nearly $2,000 toward Haiti aid in exchange for personal phone calls expressing his thanks to those who donated. Hayhurst said the thank-you calls were time consuming but rewarding and something that anyone could take the time to do.
"Hey, I'm just like you," he said. "Just because I play this for a living doesn't make me different or special or unique or somehow separated from suffering. Let's just call and chat, and I'll thank you personally. We'll talk about baseball, we'll talk about Haiti, whatever. Let's just be people, and if you donate, I'll be happy to call."
Hayhurst's efforts resonated with the Action Team callers. Eleven Action Teams, including the March Action Team of the Month from Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., have already completed projects to benefit Haiti.
Cypress Bay, the closest Action Team to Haiti, partnered with local charity Food for the Poor to raise more than $1,000 for Haiti aid by organizing a raffle with the Florida Marlins, complete with an appearance by Billy the Marlin and a grand-prize package, including opening week Marlins tickets, a pregame player meet-and-greet, and an autographed baseball.
The Cypress Bay Action Team also collaborated with their school district to sell pastries during school lunch periods and collect food and water for Haiti victims over the course of their project.
Robbie, one of the Action Team captains, said, "it really built enthusiasm throughout the school, and it was a great introduction to the school of what Action Team is all about."
Hayhurst left the students with a reminder about the rewards of volunteerism.
"It makes you a deeper and richer person. It's not you helping them. It's them changing you and shaping you, sharing experiences, showing you the depth of humanity and what we're really about at our base level ... There's a lot of unknown at first, so it takes a good bit of courage to do to reach out and experience it, but there's something so cool and so courageous about being a young person and taking that responsibility on your shoulders."
"I promise you ... the act of your selflessness, of your humility, and seeing the healing that can be done through your hand will change you permanently. That is a gift like no other, and it is totally worth the sacrifice. I can promise you that it's real, so I encourage you to go out and try it."
Founded in 2002 as a joint initiative between the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Volunteers of America, the Action Team program inspires youth to make a difference in their schools and communities by connecting student volunteers with exemplary Major League players. To date, more than 20,000 students in more than 150 high schools have taken action to bring positive changes to the lives of 900,000 people in need.