Former Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr., served as keynote speaker at the annual luncheon, in which Kansas City’s Billy Butler was feted for raising funds for food.
Two great things happened Wednesday for Kansas City designated hitter Billy Butler.
One was that he was able to visit the school at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and meet kids who were under treatment or whose siblings were being treated.
Butler and his wife, Katie, spend a lot of time with kids and their parents. They started the “Hit It a Ton” program in 2007 in Kansas City to help feed the hungry in the Kansas City area through the Bishop Sullivan Center.
A ton of food costs $250, and the couple donates that much for every Butler home run (19 last year to go with a .292 batting average) and $125 for every double (44). Corporate sponsors have signed on and every home run last year meant six tons of food for the organization.
In its first three years, funds for 960 tons of food were raised.
“You realize how fortunate you are, and you want to give back, Butler said. “Part of being a baseball player that as much as you focus on the game, you want to make a difference. Its not that hard.
“We see a lot of kids in the work we do. And we see their parents, because there are a lot of people out there are having trouble putting food on the table.
Ripken did something that was truly hard. The 21-year star for the Baltimore Orioles was the man who not just broke but demolished Lou Gehrig s record for most consecutive games played. Gehrig played in 2,130 games for the Yankees. Ripken played in 2,632 games, meaning he didnt get a day off for 16 years.
Butler joins a list of 46 previous award winners from across baseball that have been selected for best exemplifying “the honor, courage and dedication of baseball great Fred Hutchinson. Hutchinson, a Seattle native who was a major league pitcher and later manager, died of cancer at the age of 45.
On the list of previous winners are Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose, Willie McCovey, Johnny Bench, John Olerud, Omar Vizquel, Jamie Moyer and Lou Brock. Another winner is Mike Sweeney (2007), a man who helped Butler in the first years of his big league career.
“When you learn the history of the Hutch Award and see the names of those who have won it, its very humbling, Butler said. “And to know that Mike Sweeney, who is the portrait of what you want to be as a man, is part of that is amazing.
“And on top of that to get a chance to meet Cal Ripken Jr., its not like anything else.
Ripken hadnt been in Safeco Field since the 2001 season, when he was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game in Seattle in his last season as a big leaguer. He took time to tour the visiting clubhouse and spent some time in solitary in the visitors batting cage.
Later, he talked about losing his father, Cal Sr., to cancer at 63, about not buying into the old bromide that says you “accept what is out of your control.
“I never liked that, Ripken said. “Instead, I would think about what level of control I could (establish).
He talked about how that helped him break Gehrigs record. By playing defense well, by being a leader on the field, but running the bases smartly and by seldom giving away at-bats, he made managers complicit in his run toward Gehrig.
“(Former Orioles manager) Frank Robinson said he wanted to rest me, Ripken said. “But he said that while he could replace my glove, and he could replace my bat, but he couldnt replace the other things that I could do. So I kept playing.
Ripken, who has spent the past decade working with kids, hadnt known much about Butler, but found a kindred spirit.
“Hes a good baseball player, a good hitter and a good person, Ripken said.