Quarantined in his home, bored, waiting for the day baseball finally comes back, Dee Gordon couldn't stop thinking about everyone whose lives the coronavirus has upended. The kids who weren't receiving meals at school. The friends whose businesses were collapsing because of lockdowns. He needed to do something. So he made a call.
Gordon, the two-time All-Star second baseman with the Seattle Mariners, told Jamaal Jackson, the owner of Jesse's Rib Shack in Orlando, Florida, to start cooking. It didn't matter what the food cost. Gordon would pay for it, and everyone who came to Jesse's that day would eat for free.
"We can help people," Gordon told ESPN in a conversation this week, an ethos emblematic of who he is -- and one that was recognized Thursday as Gordon was named the winner of the Hutch Award, among the most prestigious honors given to baseball players. It is named for Fred Hutchinson, the longtime major league pitcher and manager who died of cancer at 45. His brother, a surgeon, devoted himself to honoring his brother, and for the last 45 years, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has been among the foremost facilities in the world.
Rewarding Gordon for a career of generosity was no surprise. When he was with the Miami Marlins, Gordon partnered with the team on the Flash of Hope program, which catered to children whose lives were marred by domestic violence. Gordon's mother, DeVona Strange, was shot and killed by her boyfriend when Gordon was 7. Gordon also has worked with Striking Out Poverty, Food For the Hungry, Big League Impact and other charities to provide assistance in a wide range of areas.
His latest project is a collaboration with Uncognito, a Seattle-area company making stylish mask covers that each come with a KN-95 mask. Gordon will receive a cut of the proceeds on his mask cover designs -- one for the Dodgers, Marlins and Mariners, each of the three teams he has played for -- and donate them to Dawn Rising, a domestic abuse agency in Seattle.
"Some people want to show you, hey we did this. I ain't into that," Gordon said. "I just hope what I can do speaks for itself."
Fred Hutch noticed. The Hutch Award, given to "the player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson," has been around for more than half a century now. Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax were the first two winners and are among the 14 Hall of Fame players awarded.
The luncheon that accompanies the award, which has raised more than $7 million total, was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, Fred Hutch plans to have an online celebration with Gordon and raise money. Already it has found success in that space. Tanner Swanson, the quality-control coach and catching director with the New York Yankees, has been holding free Zoom webinars and asking for donations to Fred Hutch. So started Coaches vs. COVID, which now has more than a dozen instructors following Swanson's method. The group has secured nearly $20,000 in donations, which will be given to Fred Hutch to use in a number of its COVID-19 research projects.
Across baseball, players are doing their part. In addition to what he's giving, Gordon is taking social distancing to an extreme. "We don't leave the house," he said. He grocery shops once a week. He goes to Jesse's to ensure everything is running smoothly, then heads back home to be with his wife, Jojo, and his newborn daughter, Demi. His greatest stress may be ensuring he's got all five pieces to properly put together a Dr. Brown's bottle.
It has given him plenty of time to reminisce, too, on where he has been as a batting champion, where he's going after turning 32 on Wednesday and how his actions embody the person he wants to be.
"There was this feeling I had when I was a little kid," Gordon said. "Being the runt of the litter, if somebody messed with a kid who couldn't defend himself, I always would get in trouble for that kid. Always butted in.
"Now, I don't need to get in trouble. I can just help."