"To think that a kid in this community will benefit from this Boys & Girls Club means so much to me," he said, dabbing a stream of tears as his voice continued to quiver. "While I have one more year with the Phillies - hint, hint - obviously I want to play here for the rest of my career. I have faith that I will. But if it doesn't . . .
"I will know for the rest of my life that I can come back, say 30 years from now, and have my kids say, 'Look what my dad did for this community.' "
Here's what Shane Victorino and his wife, Melissa, did for Nicetown. They spent $900,000 to refurbish its Boys & Girls Club, which sits in the foreground of Simon Gratz High School and not far from the site of the old Connie Mack Stadium. A building with a collapsing roof, crumbing walls and faulty wiring was transformed at a breakneck, 18-month construction pace into a state-of-the art facility with the mission of giving children from the ages of 6 to 19 living nearby a safe haven for activities.
The Shane Victorino Nicetown Boys & Girls Club contains a new full-sized gym, game room, teen center, media/technology center, after-school study lounge and kitchen. More than 60 percent of Nicetown homes are headed by single parents and nearly 50 percent of Nicetown families live below the poverty line.
Usually there's a story when an athlete puts down this kind of dough. But Victorino didn't grow up poor in his native Maui, and he is not really a product of Boys & Girls Clubs. "I did go there, though," he said. "To see my buddies who were less fortunate than me."
Victorino's father, Michael, was there yesterday. An insurance agent and Maui politician, he talked his son out of quitting baseball in 2003. His mom, Joycelyn, a labor union secretary, was with him as well. Later, at his locker, Victorino spoke about a time when money was tight, so tight that his request for batting gloves was met with a simple question:
"Do you want them," Joycelyn asked. "Or do you need them?"
"I need them, Mom."
So his mother bought them. Later, when he became a major leaguer, he sent her a basket full of new ones.
He'd like to do more than that. They won't let him. "My mom always preached about giving back to your community," Victorino said later in the day, as he stood at his Phillies locker.
Your community. That's the other story from yesterday. Victorino considers Philadelphia, the town he has played in since 2005, his second community. The guy who came here as a Rule 5 draftee, who lives in Las Vegas, who seemed to be in the middle of every big trade rumor his first few years here, whose comments about us have sometimes been ill-received, feels like one of us.
"Obviously, I love playing here," he said after the ceremony. "And every time my name came up around the trade deadline, I acted like it didn't bother me. But it did. I call this home. I love playing in this city. The fans are great. To show up every night, 45,000. Every night. This is home."
He said this 1 day after being booed for grounding out to end a game. He said this 2 days after being vociferously booed for striking out to end the previous game.
"When I was in high school, I had teammates who wanted to come to Philly and go to school," he told a crowd of about 300 in Nicetown. "I looked at them and said, 'Are you crazy? Philadelphia? Why?' "
Now, he said, he gets it, gets that cliches are cliches because they are so obvious. Passionate. Intense. Caring. Yesterday, dabbing the tears as he spoke in front of his latest positive contribution here, Shane Victorino was all those things.
"Anything's possible if you set your dreams high," he told the Nicetown kids waiting to enter the building. "So, you kids, set your dreams high."
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