Minnesota Twins fans know Michael Cuddyer as a versatile player with adaptable talents. That carries over to his charitable efforts. Cuddyer is constantly thinking of creative ways to raise money for his favorite charities, often finding opportunity in the innocuous.
Every year Twins players are issued new luggage, which is then tossed out at the end of the season. Needing a silent auction item for Cheerful Givers, a non-profit that provides birthday gifts to underprivileged children, Cuddyer asked Twins community relations director Bryan Donaldson if he could use a discarded suitcase. He asked teammates to autograph it, filled it with Twins souvenirs, and presented it for the auction.
"Some guys, you have to bring the opportunities to them," Donaldson said. "And there are some guys who bring opportunities to you. [Cuddyer] is one of those guys."
As the longest-tenured Twin, Cuddyer, who broke into the majors in 2001, embraces his responsibility as a public figure to do more than hit, catch and throw. Cuddyer is the only active player on the board of directors of the Twins Community Fund, which supports youth activities in the area. Cuddyer and his wife Claudia, a former English teacher, gladly volunteer for Cheerful Givers as well as the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities and other endeavors. When it comes to being a pro athlete, Cuddyer believes there's an off-the-playing-field responsibility that goes along with the job.
"You're an influence, period. You have no choice," Cuddyer said. "It's up to you as an athlete to be a positive or a negative one. It's something I don't take very lightly. I want to be that positive influence."
Cuddyer, who made his first American League All-Star team this season, carries so much cachet as a leader that when he asks his teammates or Twins alumni for help, they usually respond. Most of the team volunteered for Cuddyer's fifth annual Celebrity Waiter dinner earlier this month, a benefit for the Boys & Girls Clubs that raised more than $70,000 this year and about $310,000 since its inception. The idea was Cuddyer's, Donaldson said.
The event's silent auction features items Cuddyer solicits himself. Last year he had former American League Most Valuable Players Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau autograph one bat that sold for about $20,000 and got 500-homer sluggers Killebrew and Jim Thome to sign another that fetched almost $4,000.
"I never was in the Boys & Girls Club, and I never really had friends in the Boys & Girls Club," said Cuddyer, who grew up in Norfolk, Va. "I was very fortunate that my parents were there for me after school, provided me pretty much everything I needed. But I wasn't naive, thinking every kid was like that.
Claudia Cuddyer told Michael about Cheerful Givers after she met the organization's president, Karen Kitchel. Claudia later joined its board of directors. After a game in July, the Cuddyers and seven other player-wife couples filled bags at Target Field with books and stuffed animals. The bags go to parents; Cuddyer said the children never know the gifts are donated.
"You don't want to say you feel obligated, but you almost feel like you need to be able to give back," Cuddyer said. "We're so fortunate to be in the situation that we're in. Not everybody is like that."
And not everybody in the majors is like Cuddyer. But as an example of how to give back, this Twin is batting 1.000.