As players reported to Spring Training, Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron joined Action Team high school volunteers from communities across the U.S. to talk about how playing a team role is just as important off the field as it is at Fenway Park.
Founded in 2003 by the Major League Baseball Players Trust and Volunteers of America, the Action Team program connects high school students with Major League players to promote community service and train and inspire the next generation of volunteers. To date, more than 26,000 Action Team student volunteers in more than 157 high schools nationwide have helped improve the lives of more than 111,000 people in need.
Cameron phoned in from his first day of workouts as a guest of the Action Team's monthly conference call series, in which student Action Team captains have a candid conversation about baseball, teamwork and volunteering with their favorite Major League stars.
A former All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and author of It Takes a Team, Cameron credited teamwork for helping him overcome challenges throughout his career and urged the Action Team captains to reflect on the power of being a supportive teammate.
"I feel like there's an ultimate sacrifice in teamwork, where you're trying to do something that's very individualized, but if you come together as a team, it makes it so much more special," Cameron said.
"I was raised by my grandmother, but my mom and dad were always there," he said. "I've always kind of been raised separately by everyone, and that was the first sign of teamwork I knew. It was a blessing in disguise because I didn't realize the effort of my parents and all of these people who helped me grow, stay on the right track and follow the dream I had of playing Major League baseball."
Cameron recalled being traded to Seattle and explained how team support helped him face the tough assignment of replacing superstar Ken Griffey Jr. in the Mariners' outfield.
"I was on such a good team, and I went out there and just said, 'Look, there's no way possible that I can be Griffey,' but I played as hard as I could possibly play and tried to do the best things I could possibly do," he said. "The fans in Seattle opened up their hearts and their doors to me, and it took a whole team and a family for me to be successful to make that a special moment."
Respected by teammates and former teammates baseball, Cameron shared his secret to staying grounded and being a team leader.
"I was raised to be a good man long before I was raised to be a good baseball player," Cameron told the students. "It's been a part of me forever, to be able to help people and put smiles on people's faces. I think it's a blessing to be able to use my stage to reach out to people or help people find things in life that they're missing. I've always felt that no matter the circumstance or how my life may change because I play Major League baseball, I want people to be comfortable with me and I always want to treat people the same way I want to be treated."
Cameron joined students on the call in welcoming high schools from Wyoming, Iowa and Connecticut to the Action Team program and celebrating the special volunteer efforts of Action Team captains from Thornton Academy, the February Action Team of the Month.
Thornton Academy's Kaitlyn Hall, Amanda Arnold, Erin Brayden and Allison Coburn have developed a special relationship with the Paul Hazelton House, a Volunteers of America-managed senior citizen residential community close to their school in Saco, Maine. The Action Team captains have "adopted grandparents" at the center and often join the seniors for fun activities, including spirited bingo nights, festive holiday parties, line dancing and Thornton Academy theatrical productions.
The best part of the experience for the Maine Action Team captains has been seeing the smiles on the faces of their friends at Hazelton and realizing anyone can take action to improve the lives of others.
"Just going over there in general has been great," one Action Team captain saod. "It's great to see us making them happy and getting them involved in the community because they may not get to see a lot of their families."
"They've got it workin' up there!" Cameron said, as the ladies from Thornton described plans for future volunteer projects that include a hat-and-mitten drive for homeless youth, escorting Hazelton residents to a performance by the Young at Heart choral group and hosting a dinner for international students and Hazelton House seniors. "I know you guys are working hard, and I think it's a blessing for you to be able to get out and help people out. It's a joy, and I love it."
A veteran of the Action Team program, Cameron has understands the rewards of volunteering. In 2010, Cameron visited Boston-area schools and read to students as part of a youth literacy program.
"We have an opportunity to make peoples' lives much better. I wish everyone the best with the blessings and helping hands that you're able to send out. The one thing I always try to do every day is to get somebody to smile and just have a good heart about everything. I wish all you guys the best."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.