Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and a coalition of over 40 current and retired Major League Baseball players have united to launch the "Step Up to the Plate" fund to support coronavirus relief efforts in the Dominican Republic.
The coalition, organized by the Pedro Martinez Foundation, has raised over $550,000 to provide essential supplies, personal protective equipment and food in the Dominican Republic.
"The Dominican Republic has always been my home, and right now it truly needs our help. Being supported in this effort by so many of my fellow players is an honor," Martinez said on a video call with ESPN. "These are people without the most basic needs, and we are blessed to be in a position to help, and it is our duty to do so."
MLB and the MLB Players Association also will make a joint donation to the relief efforts in the Dominican Republic, sources said. The donation is set to be announced next week.
Martinez said he was joined by commissioner Rob Manfred on a conference call with several players from the coalition, during which Manfred pledged help to the Dominican Republic and told them the league was working tirelessly toward figuring out how to play baseball this year.
Some of MLB's biggest Dominican stars have joined Martinez in his efforts, including former players David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre and Jose Bautista, and current players Dellin Betances, Luis Castillo, Nelson Cruz, Johnny Cueto, Edwin Encarnacion, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Manny Machado, Ketel Marte, Marcell Ozuna, Freddy Peralta, Gregory Polanco, Albert Pujols, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Sano, Carlos Santana, Luis Severino and Juan Soto, among many others.
"One of the many things that players can accomplish when they unite is getting the commissioner on the phone," Martinez said. "We talked to the commissioner, and he assured us that MLB is working hard to return to play this season. There have been suggestions to play out the season in places like Arizona, Texas and Florida. They haven't figured things out yet, but the commissioner told us it's his goal to have baseball this season.
"I've talked to a lot of the active players that are part of the coalition, and they feel like they are running out of time," he added. "The players need to be ready; the league needs to be ready. As of right now, it's unclear how we will get to play this season, but the commissioner reassured us that we will have baseball this year. In speaking with him, my perception was that one of the things they will do is limit the amount of personnel inside stadiums, and in the beginning, games will likely be played without fans. The commissioner also told us that players' health and safety will be paramount, and I feel confident that their well-being will never be put in jeopardy. MLB and the MLBPA have some of the best staffs in the world. They know how to run a business, and I am sure they will take all the precautions necessary to be able to play this season."
The Dominican Republic has led the major leagues in players born outside the United States every year since MLB began releasing annual data in 1995. In 2019, the D.R. led MLB with a record 102 players on Opening Day rosters, the first time any foreign country had exceeded 100 players. Dominican-born players also accounted for 40.6% of all internationally born players on Opening Day rosters in 2019, the most ever.
"The focus of the help we're providing will be twofold," said Carolina Martinez, Pedro's wife and director of the Pedro Martinez Foundation. "First, we are providing food to needy families, especially to the many that have lost their jobs. Players will be in charge of distributing meal kits in their respective communities. Second, we are providing protective equipment to our medical personnel. As it happened all over the world, the Dominican Republic is short on medical supplies to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude. It's amazing and humbling to see all these players and artists come together to support our homeland."