LOS ANGELES -- Ryan Braun might have to spend his entire offseason living out of a hotel, and he is among the lucky ones.
The Milwaukee Brewers' star outfielder evacuated his Southern California home at 3 o'clock in the morning on Nov. 9, just as the devastating Woolsey Fire was beginning to spread into Malibu. His home's walls were charred and his grass burned, but the structure of his house remained intact. Braun returned to his neighborhood recently to assess the damage.
What he saw jarred him.
"It's almost apocalyptic," Braun said. "It looks like the aftermath of a war zone."
Braun and two of his teammates from last year's Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas, have since joined forces to begin the "California Strong" campaign in support of those affected by the wildfires that spread through Northern and Southern California this month. The foundation also will benefit families who lost loved ones during the mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, on Nov. 7.
Yelich, the reigning National League MVP, was born and raised in that small community. He and Braun visited the site of the shooting, Borderline Bar & Grill, as young adults. They train together only a mile away.
"That in itself is a terrible event and a terrible tragedy, something that hit home to all of us," Yelich said in a phone conversation. "To be followed shortly thereafter with these fires and everybody having to evacuate their homes, including some of the victims' families, is heartbreaking. It's something that touched all of us deeply. It made it almost personal, in a sense, to where we felt like there was a responsibility to help out the community. That's kind of what you see with this campaign."
The recent tragedies in CA have hit home for all of us. We're starting a campaign to help get people back on their feet. In these tough times you see the best side of humanity & everyone coming together for a great cause. Click here to find out how to help https://t.co/fXMG8FFciU pic.twitter.com/tlNlE0SKpg— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) November 21, 2018
The campaign involves the family of Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and recently gained the support of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who wore a California Strong T-shirt while warming up for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers are also expected to get involved. California Strong began a little over a week ago and has since joined forces with the Southeast Ventura County YMCA, helping ensure that 100 percent of the proceeds are steered toward those directly affected.
The campaign already has collected more than $300,000 in donations through its website (ca-strong.com), and an additional $35,000 or so have been raised through 10 items still up for auction. As of Sunday afternoon, more than 1,100 pieces of merchandise had been sold.
"Our goal is to have this campaign be something that has longevity and staying power," Braun said. "The goal is not only to help people now, but to help them in the future."
The Camp Fire in Northern California -- the nation's deadliest wildfire in 100 years -- spread through more than 150,000 acres, destroying 18,000 buildings and killing 88 people, with nearly 200 others still unaccounted for. The Woolsey Fire in Southern California affected another 97,000 acres, destroying 1,600 buildings and causing three deaths.
Prior to that, 13 were killed in the Thousand Oaks shooting.
Braun, Yelich and Moustakas feel deep ties to these communities and are fully invested in the project. The three of them spoke on Thursday while at a meeting with the local YMCA. They're planning a celebrity softball game at Pepperdine University on Jan. 13 and are hoping to get other athletes involved.
"So many families lost everything and have nothing right now," said Moustakas, who is a free agent. "It's just so heartbreaking, seeing all the stories coming in every single day. We just want to do everything we can to help everyone that literally has nothing and doesn't have a home to go to, doesn't have shoes to put on their feet or food to have at the table."
Moustakas fled his Malibu home with his two young children before the mandatory evacuation order went out. He stayed with his wife's parents in Palm Springs, then moved into the same hotel as Braun. They still don't know when the air quality will improve enough for them to return home.
"I think both of us feel incredibly grateful and fortunate that we'll eventually have a house to go back to," Braun said, "but we don't know when that will be."
Free-agent infielder Trevor Plouffe arrived at Braun's house shortly after the fires began to rage. Plouffe resides in Calabasas and had been forced to evacuate earlier. A few hours later, Braun did the same. He and his wife, Larisa, packed up some clothes, hand-selected a couple of wedding photos, corralled their two kids and drove south, staying first with Braun's friend and then with his mother before settling into a hotel.
"Driving through the canyons, you could see the fires," Braun said. "It was shocking to all of us to actually see what was coming, and recognizing potentially how significant the fire damage could end up being."
Braun, Yelich and Moustakas were on a text chain while all the events unfolded and vowed to start a charity after the madness subsided. They eventually came up with a name, crafted a logo and partnered with a worldwide organization.
Their work has only just begun.
"There's going to be people whose lives are forever altered by these tragedies," Braun said. "The goal is to raise as much money as possible and to support them for as many years as they need support."