Sunday afternoon the White Sox played the rubber match of their series against the Houston Astros. It was a hot day. An early lead for the Sox vanished, the game was blown open by Houston during a long 6th inning, and a late comeback fell short. It was a long day, a dog day. It was 4:15 when the game ended, yet by 6:00 Paul Konerko and Gordon Beckham were across town at Rockit Bar & Grill. Why had Konerko and Beckham run out of U.S. Cellular so quickly after a tough loss and what led them to a downtown bar when they might have instead gone home to recover from a tough week for the team? Turns out, they were brought by charity.
Children’s Home and Aid was founded in 1883 and has spent the last 129 years working to improve the lives of children around Illinois through adoption, foster care, parental education, community centers, and other youth services. They are a leader in providing quality programs to children in need. In 2007, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome started the “Bring Me Home” program, a partnership with Children’s Home and Aid created to support the needs of foster care children and families. In 2010, Gordon Beckham joined the campaign; Sunday night was the annual gathering to raise awareness and money for the cause.
I was fortunate enough to be there for the event, which I knew little about beforehand. Attendees were able to meet Konerko and Beckham and have pictures taken with them, there were also silent and live auction items up for bid, including autographed memorabilia and opportunities to visit the clubhouse or even be a part of the lineup card exchange before a game. Governor Pat Quinn, a serious White Sox fan, was also in attendance; he spoke about both the team’s 1st place standing and the importance of reaching out to children.
Both Konerko and Beckham were generous with their time, making conversation with guests, shaking hands, and speaking passionately about the cause they were there for. Konerko’s wife Jennifer’s family has taken in numerous foster children and adopted others, giving Konerko an up close look that played a major role in his co-creating this program. I found it telling that while Jim Thome wasn’t there (he’s with the Phillies now), the first thing Konerko did during his address to the crowd was acknowledge Thome. If you’ve followed baseball closely over the last 20 years, you’ve surely heard good things about the way Thome carries himself as a player and as a person. He leaves a wake of impressed teammates and fans, everywhere he goes. Beckham seemed humbled and honored to have been asked to fill his shoes.
As a sports fan, it’s very easy to view professional athletes as people you like or dislike based simply on the shirt they put on for the games they play. Hawk Harrelson calls them “good guys” and “bad guys” because of their laundry. Fans judge them as people based on their ability to hit a ball or make a shot. To some extent, this is as it should be. It’s rare that we really get to know a player, and short of such real understanding, I suppose one’s ability to do his job well and help our favorite team is as good a reason to like them as any.
As with any large group of people, some professional athletes are jerks, some of them care only about themselves and not at all for the wellbeing of others. For some of them, wealth and status are tools with which to create barriers from other people, giving them a false sense of entitlement and disdain for those less fortunate than them. But (also as with any other segment of the population) some professional athletes care deeply about others, and use their elevated position within society to help. Sunday night I got to see Paul Konerko and Gordon Beckham do something good that goes beyond just hitting home runs and winning games, which will make their next home runs more enjoyable for me.
They’re “good guys” in any shirt.