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While Others Just Talk, A's Braden Does Something About Hunger

George tells us about a major league pitcher who gives back to his community.

You have a number of images of Oakland Athletics lefty Dallas Braden. But the one you don't really know about is the most striking.

Braden pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Mothers' Day, a feat made more heartwarming by the presence of Peggy Lindsey, his grandmother, who helped raise him.

He's also the guy who mouthed off against Alex Rodriguez for crossing the pitching mound -- which Braden thought was his sacrosanct territory -- while returning to first base after running to third on a drive that went foul.

And Braden is the chap who in his first-ever appearance against the Cubs on Thursday stymied his hosts on one run and five hits in six innings. That's one of Braden's easiest assignments of his season so far.

But all of the above is the toy factory. Entertaining, diverting, riveting, but not life-altering. Hunger is anything but all of that in our land of plenty. Millions don't have enough to pay full-price, or even a steep discount, for their groceries. We end up with a bevy of private entities and persons who try to put a dent in this crying social problem.

Braden is one of them.

Major leaguers are paid like Hollywood celebrities these days, and often have the (lack of) accessibility of the same. No longer do you rub elbows with them at the corner bars around Wrigley Field. The late Rod Beck was the last regular-Joe from The Show to stop in after the game, at Bernie's in 1999 before the Cubs dealt him to the Red Sox. Some players are so worried about being stalked by the public due to their mega-affluence they won't tell you in which neighborhoods they reside, and get livid if their homes are somehow put on display in the media.

If they are involved in the community, big leaguers often just write a check or get involved in some kind of star-studded event in which the average person cannot afford to attend, or meet them.

But Braden is hands-on, during a holiday that celebrates our bounty. He's no modern-day Calvinist (Coolidge or otherwise) who hectors the downtrodden to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, that self-reliance and thrift goes a long way. He knows individuals, businesses and governments have to directly help those who have fallen through society's cracks -- or these days, chasms.

The past two Thanksgivings, Braden has spearheaded a food drive in his hometown of Stockton, Calif., one of the cities most battered by the Great Recession and its aftermath.

In 2008, Braden obtained 845 pounds of food for the St. Mary’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Community Services. A year later he obtained two tons of food, which he helped serve, for St. Mary’s.

Said Braden: "You walk around and see the faces of your friends and family, people you’ve grown up with, and people who were able to help you out when you were young, and you see those same exact people standing in line looking for help in these times.

"I couldn’t live with myself – I can’t live with myself – knowing that I’ve got a little extra now and someone doesn’t. And that someone may be someone who helped me along my way...I don’t forget it. That’s who made me who I am. It’s my duty to give back and my duty to help those if I can."

Stockton, in California's breadbasket Central Valley, was particularly hammered by the foreclosure crisis. The middle class, if you can still call them as such, are hurting.

"My grandmother really brought it to the forefront," Braden said. "She was at the first food drive at St. Mary’s. She saw a lady she worked for in the hotel business in line for a free hot meal with her family. That really struck her.

"A whole city that’s downtrodden the way we are, the things we’re up against, anything to put a smile on their face or a warm meal in their stomach for a day, you make that effort."

Braden also assists Stockton’s Hoover Tyler Little League, his youth baseball alma mater, in several ways.

"Two years now, I’ve brought the entire Little League – every team, every level – to come out for Little League day (in Oakland) to watch a ballgame with their friends and coaches," he said. "I feel like every day at the ballpark is a blessing. If you can give that to 300 people at one time, who knows what that’s going to do for them?

Braden also sponsors Little Leaguers who are economically disadvantaged coming from single-parent homes.

"It’s been two sets of brothers for two years," he said. "We take care of all of their needs. Registration fees, bats, gloves, all the equipment that goes into a Little League season."

It would be unfair to ask Braden to do more -- but could you imagine the positive effects in our communities with half of all big leaguers doing half as much as he has accomplished off the field? It's not Public Relations 101. That's called giving back when the game -- and its fans -- have given them so much.