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02/04/11 2:38 PM EST
Giving back a way of life for Bruce
Outfielder keeping promises made at start of Reds career
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Jay Bruce's Major League career as a Reds outfielder was only in its infancy in the early summer of 2008, but he was already articulating some grand plans. They weren't so much about how many homers he could hit or personal awards he might eventually collect. The vision was about how much Bruce could give back to the community, if and when he really "made it." On their own initiative, Bruce and agent Matt Sosnick scheduled a meeting with Reds Community Fund executive director Charley Frank to talk charitable contribution. "I still marvel that Jay and Matt called us to have the meeting," Frank said. "It could not have been one or two months after his callup. We have lots of good guys, but that's the only time that's happened since I've been here. "They really gave a bigger picture vision of where they wanted to be in a couple of years if they were able to get a contract extension." In December, Bruce did just that when he signed a six-year, $51 million contract with Cincinnati. It meant lifetime security for the 23-year-old and his family. It also meant that the lofty goals conceived in the Reds' offices three summers ago were no longer going to be just conceptual. "Everything they said is coming to fruition," Frank said. Bruce is giving in the neighborhood of $300,000-$400,000 for the funding of numerous community initiatives. "I came from pretty humble beginnings but I never did without," said Bruce, who debuted in the Majors on May 27, 2008 and batted .591 over his first six games. "My parents always made sure that I had what I needed. I consider myself to know the value of a dollar. Money is something that can go away. It's also something that really opens some doors and lets you do some special things." To enrich the future of others, Bruce isn't forgetting the people that enriched his past as he grew up in Beaumont, Texas. Older sister Kellan Bruce was born with mental and developmental disabilities. This season, her little brother is establishing a ticket program for fans with special needs to attend Reds games at Great American Ball Park. There are also hopes down the road of establishing a special-access field to provide more baseball opportunity for the disabled. "She's excited about it," Bruce said. "Kellan just enjoys seeing me and seeing me play. Honestly, though, at the end of the day, she just enjoys seeing me. I'm her brother, and that's it." Bruce was the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft and signed by Brian Wilson, a scouting supervisor in Texas. The following year, Wilson also scouted and signed first-rounder and future Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs. About two weeks after the Stubbs selection, Wilson died suddenly from a heart attack. He was only 33 years old with a wife and three young children. Wilson's passing at such a young age sent a shock through the Reds' organization. Bruce wants to honor him via the Reds Community Fund's field renovation program, which has revitalized over 300 downtrodden youth ballfields since 2006. The RCF hopes to cut the ribbon on Brian Wilson Field sometime in 2012. "He served the Reds so well. He was just getting started," Bruce said. "He had two first-round picks in a row that are now helping the team. He has a great family with [wife] Prairie and the girls. It was refreshing to meet someone that was so genuinely interested in my well being. He came to my house a couple of times and was a great guy, easy to talk to and easy to get to know." Most of the fields renovated by the RCF have been at inner city locations. The yet-to-be-determined site Bruce wants to improve will likely be in a rural setting that is equally struggling and underdeveloped. "We have a handful of ideas," Frank said. "Jay indicated that he really wants this one to be a rural project that lends to his upbringing in Texas." There will also be funding directed toward a larger project the community fund is spearheading -- the creation of the Reds Urban Baseball Academy in the Roselawn section of Cincinnati. The multi-million-dollar project has a projected completion of 2013. Because of Bruce, a ticketing program for military personnel and their families to attend Sunday Reds games is continuing in 2011. It was started by pitcher Aaron Harang and called "Aaron's Aces." Harang was not re-signed by the Reds this winter and moved on to join the Padres. Under Bruce's insistence, however, the ticket program will still be called "Aaron's Aces." "He thought since he founded it that it should be kept," Frank said. "That speaks to the whole concept with Jay. It's so genuine." Bruce's contract has stipulations of more contributions being made to the Reds Community Fund. In 2011, he will give $25,000. It moves up to $50,000 in 2012-13 and $75,000 from 2015-17. In an era when professional athletes often become multi-millionaires in their teens and 20s, add enabling sycophants to their entourages and make wacky demands of their teams, Bruce is trying to work against any potential professional sports stereotypes. When he received his bonus money as an 18-year-old Draft pick, Bruce bought homes for his parents and sisters before doing anything for himself. And before he even signed his contract this winter, he already had plans for others -- essentially an entire fan base. But he's also not planning on letting his money dry up, which has also happened to many a well-paid athlete. "I think that with the financial security I have now, I'm in a great position," Bruce said. "If I hadn't signed, I'd still be in a great position. I'm pretty responsible with my finances. You can get caught up in it or continue living the way that you've known and grew up living. That's what I plan to do."