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MLBPA award winners put Players Trust grants to use

Anthony Rizzo, a cancer survivor himself, knew right away he would steer the $50,000 grant he won as the 2017 Marvin Miller Man of the Year to one of the beneficiaries of the charity he founded five years ago to help kids with cancer and their families.

“On the field you want to do things the right way, play the game the right way and off the field I really try to use the platform we’ve been provided to go out and help,” the ever-friendly first baseman said after winning the prestigious honor during the 26th Players Choice Awards.

Tireless in his charitable efforts, Rizzo was a worthy recipient The Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, which is named for the founding executive director of the modern Major League Baseball Players Association and given to the player who most inspires those in the player fraternity through his contributions on the field and in the community.

He even used the Players Choice Awards telecast on MLB Network this week to plug his sixth “Walk-Off for Cancer” 5K, the fundraiser for the Rizzo Family Foundation that he hosts in his Parkland, Fla., hometown.

“The foundation has really taken off the last 3-5 years,” the 28-year-old first baseman said. “It benefits kids with cancer and the dollars go directly to the families.”

The Players Trust, the first charity in professional team sports administered by the players themselves, has provided more than $4.7 million in charitable grants to causes selected by players who have won Players Choice Awards during the 26 years they have been presented. The Players Choice Awards are selected annually in balloting among all players.

This year’s winners will designate charities to receive grants totaling $260,000. As winners of awards voted on by players in both leagues, Rizzo and Jose Altuve, who was named Player of the Year, each receive a $50,000 grant while winners of the league-wide awards receive $20,000 grants.

Slugger Giancarlo Stanton will direct the $20,000 grant that comes with his Players Choice Award as the NL Outstanding Player to the All-Star Smiles Foundation, the charity he created with the help of the Delray Beach, Fla., dental group that helped reconstruct his teeth and jaw after he was hit by a pitch in the face in September 2014.

The foundation’s mission is to fight children’s tooth decay and provide free dental services for economically challenged families.

“I’ll give [money] to All-Star Smiles to help underprivileged kids get their dental work done,” the 6-foot-6 Miami Marlins right fielder said after winning. “It’s expensive to have their teeth taken care of and these kids eat just about anything.”

Over the years, the Players Trust grants have gone to as wide an array of charities as the range of players’ interests in off-the-field causes.

Max Scherzer, whose peers selected as the NL Outstanding Pitcher after leading the league in strikeouts for the second straight season, plans to give his grant dollars to the Humane Rescue Alliance – an organization he and his wife, Erica, have worked with to find new homes for stray dogs.

“It’s done such great work and we’ve helped with all of the hurricane dogs that have been displaced, clearing out the shelters so they can bring in dogs in dire need,” the veteran right-hander said.

Scherzer’s teammate, Ryan Zimmerman, who was named NL Comeback Player after making his 13th season with the Nationals one of the best of his career, will give his $20,000 grant to ziMS Foundation, the charity he formed in his rookie year to fight multiple sclerosis.

“My mother was diagnosed with MS a little over 20 years ago and the foundation has been around for 13 years,” said Zimmerman, who had a .303 batting average, 36 homers and 108 RBIs this season. “I’ve been grateful to have a platform to raise money to try to get rid of the disease that affects my mom.”

Mike Moustakas, the AL Comeback Player winner, was struck at the outpouring of support from the Royals, his teammates and the Kansas City community following the death of teammate Yordano “Ace” Ventura in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. He will send his grant money to the Ace 30 Memorial Fund, which the Royals started to support youth baseball projects in the Dominican Republic.

“Losing Ace last year was hard on us and all of baseball,” Moustakas said. “We started doing something in Kansas City last year with all the guys helping out, so we’re going to keep that going.”

Corey Kluber (AL Outstanding Pitcher), Nolan Arenado (NL Outstanding Player) and Aaron Judge (AL Outstanding Rookie) were still mulling over the specific beneficiaries of their grants, but knew the choice would be from the communities in which they play and draw support.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great organizations in Cleveland,” said Kluber, who was 18-4 with an MLB-leading 2.25 ERA and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings for the Indians in 2017. “We’re still deciding how we want to distribute [the grant], but we’re looking forward to using it in a good way.”

Said Arenado, “Whenever you can give back to the people who support you, it’s a great thing.”

Judge, the Yankees’ 25-year-old slugger who set an MLB rookie record with 52 home runs, told MLB Network during the awards broadcast that he wanted more time to think and pray about it.

“I’ve been talking it over with my family and it’s going to be something involving children,” he said. “Helping out with the youth in the community is something near and dear to my heart.”

NL Outstanding Rookie Cody Bellinger, who hit an NL rookie-record 39 home runs in 132 games after being called to the majors in mid-April, has been inspired by the efforts his teammate Enrique “Kike” Hernandez is making to help the millions of people in Puerto Rico who remain in dire need following Hurricane Maria.

“I was going to call Kike and give the money to (support) what he’s doing in Puerto Rico,” Bellinger said. “It would be really cool to help him out there.”

The Sunshine Kids, a charity begun in 1992 to support children with cancer, will likely be the biggest recipient of Players Trust grants from the 2017 Players Choice Awards. Altuve, who won a grant for $50,000 as the overall Player of the Year and another for $20,000 as the AL Outstanding Player, said he’s long admired former Astros star Craig Biggio’s longtime commitment to the charity.

“I’ll be giving my money to the Sunshine Kids,” said Altuve, the 5-foot-6 second baseman from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, who led the AL in batting (.346) and hits (204). “I want to get involved and help those kids.”