Billy Butler feels right at home with a baseball bat in his hands.
Not so much standing behind a microphone.
The Kansas City Royals’ 25-year-old designated hitter conceded that he was a little out of his comfort zone at Safeco Field on Feb. 1 while being honored as the 47th recipient of the prestigious Hutch Award.
“I’d rather be facing Felix Hernandez right now,” Butler quipped as he stood before a large audience. “I am not much of a public speaker.”
That being said, Butler told the story of how the “can of corn” metaphor, used in describing an easy out in baseball, fits so well into the Hit-It-A-Ton campaign that he and his wife, Katie, are deeply involved with.
“I have learned from my charity back in Kansas City that there are many people who cannot afford to buy even a can of corn,” Butler said. “My family has been very blessed, and Katie and I feel very strongly that we teach our daughter to give back.”
On a day Butler shared center stage with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., the Keynote Speaker, the KC slugger was saluted for his work on and off the field, giving back to his baseball community via the Hit-It-A-Ton campaign to help feed the hungry in the Kansas City area through the Bishop Sullivan Center.
For the past three seasons, each time Butler hits a home run (he belted 19 of them last season), $250 – the cost to purchase one ton of food – is donated. Each double he hits is worth $125. More than $215,000 and 960 tons of food have been raised to help feed those in need.
“This whole thing is very humbling,” Butler said at the luncheon. “The ability to change peoples’ lives is why we feel so good about the (Hit-It-A-Ton) program. It has grown every year, and we’re very happy about that.”
Giving back is a lot easier, and more rewarding, than taking, although Butler won on the receiving end for the Hutch Award, awarded each year since 1965 to the Major League player who best exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson, a former big-league pitcher and manager. Hutch died of cancer in 1964 at age 45 and his brother Bill, a prominent Seattle surgeon, founded the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
The Hutch Award was established in1965 and Butler joins an elite club that includes Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey and Lou Brock – all Hall of Famers.
Butler becomes the fourth Royals player to win the Hutch, a list that includes George Brett (1980), Dennis Leonard (1986) and Mike Sweeney (2007).
“Mike Sweeney was the portrait of what you want to be as a man,” Butler said. “He does everything right, so to win this award after he’s won it means a lot to me. One of the joys of playing baseball is to be able to give back as much as possible. It’s almost the least you do, because without fans, baseball isn’t anything.”
Butler also paid tribute to former Royals pitcher Dan Quisenberry. “He said, ‘I may not be able to save the world, but I can always feed my neighbors,'” Butler said. “Even the smallest gestures can make a huge difference.”
The program at Safeco Field included the heart-wrenching story of the McLendon Family, presented by Lyn McLendon.
She recalled that on Dec. 26, 2005, eight-year-old Logan went complained of severe stomach pains. His temperature was 106 degrees and after being rushed to a hospital, the diagnosis was that Logan had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
He underwent three years of chemotherapy and the “end of treatment” came in May 2009. But several months later, Logan complained of headaches. Tests determined that the cancer had returned and doctors said his best chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant.
His two sisters, Faith and Grace, both were matches and Faith, the oldest, donated her bone marrow. Now, two years later, Logan is cancer free and playing football.
Ripken, the famed “Iron Man” in baseball and holder of the MLB record for most consecutive games played, entertained the audience for nearly half-an-hour, disclosing, among other things, how he used to call pitches from his shortstop position while playing for the Baltimore Orioles.
Ripken, whose late father, Cal Sr., died from lung cancer in 1999, talked about his father handing down attributes that allowed Junior to break one of baseball’s most “unbreakable” records: 2,130 consecutive games played. Cal Jr. eventually played in 2,632 consecutive games.
“He was my whole world,” he said. “Someone I leaned on very much. My dad was 10 when his dad died in a car accident and he always thought it was important to work with kids. My dad was a father figure for many kids.”
In 2001, two years after his father’s passing, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation was established throughout the country with Boys & Girls Clubs, Police Athletic League centers, inner-city schools and other organizations serving America’s most distressed communities.