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Jason Heyward, Ed Howard, Nico Hoerner, Cubs team up with Players Alliance to give back in Chicago

3 years agoAndy Martinez

As the first cars and children started making their way into the parking lot at Phalanx Family Services in the West Pullman neighborhood, Cubs’ first round draft pick Ed Howard had to do a double take.

The masks and winter gear protecting the children from both the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rainy, cold Saturday couldn’t hide the smiles they had when they saw Howard and his Cubs’ teammates Jason Heyward and Nico Hoerner and 16-year MLB veteran Curtis Granderson. Especially because Howard knew just what they were feeling.

“It’s kinda crazy,” Howard said. “I remember being those kids. It wasn’t too long ago when I was growing up and meeting people and looking up to guys that played professional baseball. I’m glad that I’m finally in that position where I can put a smile on some younger kids’ faces and help them out.”

Howard joined Heyward and Granderson as part of the Players Alliance’s Pull Up Neighbor Tour that stopped in Chicago. The Pull Up Neighbor Tour was a partnership between the Players Alliance and Pull Up Neighbor, a Black-owned community response team to help Black communities. They provided baseball gear and equipment to children, had food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository and COVID-19 resources like hand sanitizers and face coverings.

“It’s humbling,” Heyward said. “We wanna give back, we wanna do the positive things. It’s nice to have these ideas we’re talking about, but just to be able to see it transform and come together like this and us be able to immediately give back, people are here showing up and ready to be helped out and they’re ready to receive these blessings that we’re trying to help spread.

“It’s just huge to be here now. It’s a tough time for everyone as we know, 2020 holiday season, just trying to spread some joy, man.

The tour made two stops on Chicago’s South Side on Saturday — at Phalanx in West pullman and at Washington Park. They’ll make two more stops on Sunday — in the Little Village neighborhood and in the Washington Heights neighborhood.

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For Granderson and Heyward, Saturday’s events were the realization of a dream that was sparked with a simple phone call.

After George Floyd’s death in May and the subsequent protest that were sparked, Granderson and other Black players knew they had to step up.

“A lot of players ended up communicating saying, ‘We gotta do more than just post a black picture on social media,’” Granderson said. “So Edwin Jackson who’s played for 14 different teams, knows everybody, Dee Gordon, Cameron Maybin, who also knows a lot of guys, started connecting with a lot of the current and former Black players in the game.”

The result was the Players Alliance which is comprised of over 150 former and current Black players. Players donated their salaries on Jackie Robinson Day and throughout the season to the Players Alliance, resulting in $1 million dollars for the Pull Up Neighbor Tour.

But it didn’t end with members of the Players Alliance.

The Cubs stepped up to the plate by donating gear and equipment that was handed out. Other MLB teams are also contributing as the tour makes stops in 33 cities across the country over the next 40 days.

“It means a lot man just to have that support,” Heyward said. “Having the organization stand behind us is huge. It’s huge for the Players Alliance.”

In a year as difficult as 2020 has been, being able to give back has meant a lot to Heyward, Howard, Granderson and the rest of the Players Alliance. They hope it’s just the first of many events where they can give back to Black communities and grow the game they love.

“I had players that I loved like Ken Griffey Jr., like Ozzie Smith and now I’m getting a chance to not only have met those guys, played with those guys, but be those guys to help the next generation that are coming up,” Granderson said. “The excitement the kids are getting going, ‘Wow, he’s from here, he doesn’t look too much different than me. He’s not much bigger than me, maybe I can be like that.’ That’s what you want to try to instill to those [younger] guys.”


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