Academics and baseball have helped Mark Teixeira achieve great success in his life, so it's just natural the New York Yankees first baseman chooses to support causes for education and athletics.
On Tuesday, Teixeira and Harlem RBI announced a partnership that includes a $100,000 donation and active involvement from the Yankees slugger.
Teixeira, 30, will join the youth-development organization's board of directors, serve as chairman of its 2010 Bids for Kids Gala on May 19 and be honorary chairman of Harlem RBI's $20 million capital campaign committee. Besides helping the East Harlem organization, which provides scholarships and baseball opportunities to inner-city youth, Teixeira will work to raise support for other RBI programs around the country.
"Harlem RBI is thrilled to have Mark Teixeira join our team," Richard Berlin, executive Director of Harlem RBI, said in a news release. "His support of the Future's Fund will help us to continue ensuring that 100 percent of our youth graduate high school and over 93 percent will go on to college every year. Mark is a tremendous player both on and off the field and his generous contributions to Harlem RBI and the Future's Fund will make higher education possible for many well-deserved high school students."
Teixeira, who led the American League in runs batted in (122), tied Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena for the AL lead in home runs (39) last year and helped the Yankees win the World Series, spoke by phone Monday about his charitable endeavors, personal interests and baseball.
The Life: How did you get involved with Harlem RBI?
Teixeira: My first year in New York I started kinda meeting some people and trying to figure out what I wanted to get involved with from a community standpoint. And once I really started hearing more about Harlem RBI and the impact they were making with the children in Harlem, it really sounded like a perfect fit for me because of the RBI's involvement with Major League Baseball and the players. And just the fact that Harlem is so close to the stadium and those kids are being impacted, they're helping out our entire community.
The Life: Were you looking specifically for something that involved academics and sports?
Teixeira: Well, it just makes sense for me because my foundation, ever since I started it, has been very involved with college scholarships, education, children's needs, whether it's Police Athletic League, Boys and Girls Clubs, college scholarships for high school students, those sort of things are really close to my heart and RBI was a perfect fit.
The Life: When you were 21 you started a scholarship at your old high school in the name of a friend who had died in a car accident, and then you went to Georgia Tech, so academics has always been a high priority for you.
Teixeira: Oh, definitely. And one of the reasons I went to Georgia Tech was because there were no guarantees I was going to be a big league baseball player, and I wanted to make sure that I had a good education to fall back on in case baseball didn't work out.
The Life: Was there any thought given to the recent news how the number of black players in baseball has been declining? Is that in the back of your mind at all?
Teixeira: I think Harlem RBI, their main goal is not to try to get inner city kids into the major leagues. Their main goal is to try to get inner city kids into college, you know, graduating high school and going to college.
And I think the two go hand-in-hand, and let me explain that. When you have a kid in the inner city and he wants to go to college, there are a few sports that he might be interested in and might be able to get a scholarship in. Well, football has 85 scholarships per Division I program. Basketball, I believe, I don't know the exact number, 12 to 14 scholarships. Baseball, an entire team, 25- to 30-man roster, has 11.7 scholarships.
So you have an inner-city kid, and his high school coach tells him, "Hey, you have a chance to be a great athlete, you have a chance to get a college scholarship, go play basketball or football because that's where the scholarships are."
And because of that we're not getting as many quality athletes into colleges to play baseball, and then they're not going to the major leagues. So the education, most people don't talk about it, but education and major league athletes from the inner cities really go hand-in-hand.
The Life: You mentioned the higher-level scholarships, but as far as something like this at the grass-roots level are there very many baseball-related types of groups like Harlem RBI?
Teixeira: I think Harlem RBI is really the trend-setter. If you look at their model and what they've opened is a public charter school, it's called the Dream Charter. ... They start kids as early as kindergarten. And they basically teach them the basic goals to stay focused on school and stay in school and offer after-school programs and summer programs to get these kids to graduate from high school, go on to college and become the leaders of their community.
The Life: And last week, President Obama singled you out for your charitable work during the Yankees' White House visit. How did that feel?
Teixeira: That was unbelievable. I was completely blown away, very surprised, I had no idea something like that was coming.
I just thanked the president first of all, but I just think it just shows how many great things the Yankees organization does. And our players, you know everyone wants to talk about what we do on the field -- home runs or a pitcher throwing a complete game or winning a World Series -- but baseball is really just a tool to do some great things off the field and really make impacts in our community. I think that's why I teamed up with RBI because RBI uses baseball in the same way. They get kids interested because of baseball, but they use baseball really as a tool really to change their lives.
The Life: You mentioned some of the other groups you support through your foundation, such as Boys and Girls Clubs. What other charities are high atop your list?
Teixeira: I've worked with a lot of different ones. The college scholarships were No. 1 on my list, and I've brought those scholarships pretty much everywhere I've played.
And then also I gave a million dollars to my high school for their capital campaign, my high school in Baltimore was having some ... you know they were kind of behind the times, it's a Catholic all-boys high school and they needed some facilities upgrades, and so I helped out with that. And also at Georgia Tech I helped endow one of the baseball scholarships, a $500,000 baseball scholarship. And so my foundation really is just all about education and helping kids and giving high school or college-age kids the chance that I did get. I'm where I am today because someone gave me a chance and gave me a college scholarship and allowed me to pursue my dream.
The Life: Between those commitments and baseball, how do you spend your free time, say on on off day?
Teixeira: Off days are a lot of time spent with my family. I have two kids, they're 4 and 2, and so I really just try to just catch up on time with them. It's tough not being with them very much during the season. And I miss a lot of quality time with them.
If you'd asked me this four years ago before my son was born, it would be yeah, I go fishing a lot, I go golfing a lot, maybe take a day trip with my wife, but now it's really just spending as much time with my wife and kids as possible.
The Life: Even when you're on the road, there's no time for fishing or golfing?
Teixeira: When I'm on the road, that's my time to catch up on sleep. Every now and then I'll dust off the golf clubs, but I really just play a few rounds a year during the season. When I'm on the road, if we have an off day I'm sleeping in, I'm probably ordering a movie and ordering room service and just relaxing.
The Life: Are you much of a movie buff?
Teixeira: I love movies. One of the funnest things for my kids and I is to make a bag of popcorn and go into the theater and turn on their favorite movie, whether it's "The Incredibles" or "Kung-Fu Panda" or something like that. And we'll just have a good time spending time on the couch watching movies together.
The Life: So your top movies of the past year are more likely from the family genre?
Teixeira: Oh, yeah, almost all of my favorite movies are family movies because of the kids.
The Life: So what would be your or your kids top pick from the past year?
Teixeira: The last year, let me see. ... I would say my son's all-time favorite movie is "Kung-Fu Panda." I can probably quote the entire movie start to finish. We actually have had to buy two or three different DVDs because they get worn out. And he plays with them, too, so he'll take them out and he'll throw them and he'll drop them. So we're probably on No. 3 of "Kung-Fu Panda," which is great.
The Life: As far as baseball, lately there's been a lot made about your April struggles (.136 average, two homers and nine RBIs). And people look at last year and say you're a notoriously slow starter. Does that stuff get in your head at all?
Teixeira: It doesn't bother me because baseball is a game of failure. And if you choose to pick apart pieces of my game, there's a lot you can pick apart (laughs). Unfortunately, not many people hit over .320 or .330, so you're going to fail seven out of 10 times if you're really good.
So it's easy to just kind of stay focused and realize that the season is a marathon, it's not a sprint. And I've always been successful keeping that attitude.
The Life: Are you superstitious at all? When things aren't going your way, do you change your routine (Teixeira is batting .462 so far in May)?
Teixeira: No, not really. Being a switch-hitter, there's a lot of work to be put in, you know to be honest with you. There's just a lot of work. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer to get started, and once I do get going it works out pretty nicely for me and the team, so that's what I focus on.
Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.