Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago bestowed such an honor upon the team because, in part, of the organization's mission to serve those living with autism. Chicago White Sox charities donated $1 million to the Easter Seals of Metropolitan Chicago Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research as part of their annual grants program.
But it was manager Ozzie Guillen's appearance to accept the award that truly underscores the White Sox commitment to making a difference within the community and not just on the field. Guillen flew in for the night from his Florida home to be part of a cause he became personally involved with by his own direct request.
Guillen's commitment stands as just one of many on the White Sox roster who proactively want to give back.
"It's not as if we have to go to players and say, 'We really need you to do this,'" said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly. "This is about players who come to us and talk about how something was important to them, something they really care about.
"They tried to find a way to make a difference in Chicago. Kids and people and families and students benefit, but really the whole city benefits from the giving spirit."
O'Reilly spoke about some of the programs connected to White Sox players, beyond Guillen's involvement. Reliever Scott Linebrink, during his first year in Chicago, hosted war veterans every month during the season for a particular home game at U.S. Cellular Field. Brian Anderson, at 26 and in just his fourth big league season, wanted to do something with kids who have tough homes. So the White Sox put him together with children from the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.
The "JD's MVPs" program is led by right fielder Jermaine Dye and focuses on his connection with kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs. Pitcher Javier Vazquez worked through his foundation to raise funds for juvenile diabetes research, working in conjunction with Children's Memorial Hospital. It's a cause that touches close to home for Vazquez, whose daughter Kamila has dealt with the illness. In August, Vazquez hosted his first Ks for Kids Gala for this cause at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.
Nick Swisher, who was traded to the Yankees on Nov. 13, worked with the White Sox in conjunction with his own foundation, and the team was fortunate enough to find organizations to match up with him in the Chicago market. Paul and Jennifer Konerko and Jim and Andrea Thome begin their third year with their Bring Me Home campaign, working with Children's Home + Aid of Illinois, an organization that works with 800 foster kids in Illinois and 400 in the metro Chicago area.
This program got into the holiday spirit during the first week of November, when the Thomes took a group of 35 elementary-age foster children to Target to purchase winter coats. Konerko and Thome will be hosting contributors to their Bring Me Home campaign at a special reception during SoxFest on the weekend of Jan. 30.
"There's really a culture of giving and a passion from the players to community outreach shown through all these programs," O'Reilly said.
As an organization, the White Sox raised $1.5 million this past year. That money came through traditional events such as the Field of Greens golf outing, Picnic in the Park and the Family Field Day, as well as the Sox Split raffle at games, scoreboard messages, straight donations and a portion of the funds coming from the Legacy Bricks laid in a plaza in front of the ballpark, a program that has run for more than two years.
Three main projects highlighted the White Sox annual grants program. There was the $1 million contribution to the Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research. A second $1 million contribution was made to Children's Memorial Hospital for the development of the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The donation specifically will go to a family play room on the pediatric oncology floor, with cancer research and the treatment for kids serving as a building block for White Sox Charities.
A third major gift of $500,000 was given to the After School Matters program, with the White Sox targeting their donation for the apprenticeship baseball program. As part of this after-school curriculum enhancement for Chicago Public Schools, this program helps the kids learn about the nuances of baseball and eventually can lead to them being employed by the Chicago Park District as umpires, as an example.
With $3.2 million granted to 30 Chicagoland organizations in 2008, the team's non-profit arm has donated $12.2 million overall since the inception of Chicago White Sox Charities. The White Sox also will be hosting a holiday party on Dec. 11 for 600 kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs, along with other children who could benefit from the experience as identified by the Chicago Housing Authority. The White Sox once again will be involved in the Joyce Thome Benefit for Children's Hospital of Illinois on Jan. 17 at the Peoria Civic Center, hosted by Jim Thome.
White Sox Charities fell short of the record money raised in 2006 in the midst of these harsh economic times. But the organization's non-profit arm continues to more than hold its own with support of the fans and the White Sox family, starting at the top with the tone set by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
"Jerry would prefer to stay under the radar, in that he feels it's about a sense of humanity as much as it is being a corporate leader," O'Reilly said. "Jerry is amazing in terms of his authenticity of commitment to make a difference and be proactive in the community initiative. And our job is made so much easier to have these [players and coaches] who really get it and really want to do something.
"We raised right around $2.2 million or $2.3 million in 2006, but we had the World Series trophy tour and the World Series ring raffle that year. We would like to have the ring raffle again next year," O'Reilly said with a laugh.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.