Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz works out daily and keeps his swing as sharp as he can while waiting for baseball to return. But the worldwide pandemic has not slowed his community service.
No games, but plenty of assists.
Last week, he and Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez were in Santiago, Dominican Republic, handing out food to needy families. They also provided supplies to a hospital near his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz. Cruz is part of a coalition of about 70 current and former major leaguers from the Dominican who provide help to areas of the country that the government can't reach.
Cruz maintains his charitable efforts during the baseball season. For instance, he made numerous appearances in the Twin Cities last season, handed out food in New York, made a Make-A-Wish appearance in Seattle and joined Mike Trout at a hospital in the Los Angeles area.
And more is coming this season, once there is a season.
His work has not gone unnoticed. Cruz has been nominated for the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award that will be announced June 21 during the annual ESPYs awards show. The group of nominees has a Minnesota flavor to it: Lynx star Maya Moore, on sabbatical from the team, and former Timberwolf Kevin Love are also up for the award. Devin and Jason McCourty of the New England Patriots and WWE fighter Titus O'Neil round out the group of nominees.
"Through the years I've been working and never thought to be recognized," Cruz said. "But definitely it's something that makes you work harder and do more if you can do more because to be recognized by ESPN, the ESPYs, and especially Muhammad Ali is an honor and is something that makes me and my family proud. It reinforces and makes you try to do more than what you're already doing. It's just a blessing. Exciting day for me."
Moore, a four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx, stepped away last season to help gain justice for Jonathan Irons, who as a minor in 1993 had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for burglary and assault. His conviction was overturned. Love, playing for the Cavaliers, has been an advocate for issues that address mental health.
The Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award is given to an athlete whose continuous, demonstrated leadership has created a measured positive impact on their community through sports. Nominees receive a $25,000 grant and the winner will receive a $100,000 grant.
Cruz's Boomstick23 foundation will be the recipient of any grants. It focuses on providing sports and education for children.
"The next project we're thinking about is providing an education center here in my hometown," he said. "From there we'll probably spread to all over the Dominican."
Cruz, of course, hopes to be working June 21 when the award is presented. That would mean that baseball is on track for an Opening Day in early July and a second spring training has begun. Players and owners continue to negotiate over a plan that will allow the season to start, with health and pay at the top of numerous issues to agree upon.
For the season to continue, players will have to significantly alter their routines in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Physical contact will be discouraged, no spitting, no showers at the ballpark and athletic distancing are some of the changes.
As of now, Cruz's nap room at Target Field — which was created when he signed with the Twins before the 2019 season — will be available.
"Yeah, that's definitely going to make an impact among the players," he said. "It's going to be difficult, but I think we'll all be able to deal with it. I think the main [challenging] thing is just don't say hi to your teammates when they do something good.
"Or imagine, 'Don't shower if you've got to travel,' OK. We've got to go from Chicago to Kansas City, and you cannot shower until you get to the hotel. You know, how is that going to look? Going into all of the details, it's going to be crazy. But at the same time, like I say, we will have to adjust. I think in the difficult times, we have to take different rules and ways that everybody lives their life."
Until there is an agreement, Cruz will keep working out at his compound and wait for his chance to be part of the re-emergence of sports in the face of the pandemic.
"Hopefully we can get together in the middle with some type of talks about money," Cruz said. "At the end of the day, we can provide a lot of joy to fans and be there when they need something to cheer for or something to put their minds on beside the situation of where we're at.
"Hopefully, we can agree and come together to make it happen."