Preston Wilson feels strongly about helping children improve their literacy and overall education level, so he's sought opportunities to involve himself in that cause at the various stops along his professional baseball career.
"It's not that government can't do it, government doesn't do it," said the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder. "They spend billions and billions of dollars for war, but our literacy rate is lower than some countries that are almost considered third world countries.
"Look at the literacy rate in Japan, even in Costa Rica. They have no military, but somehow they're fine. Our biggest thing is we cater to people who already have money instead of catering to those who really need it -- kids.
"Until government changes, it's not going to change. We have to do a little bit here and there. This country was built on the big families who had big power. A lot of those families are still in place."
Wilson's family is just a baseball family. He is the stepson of 1980s New York Mets sparkplug center fielder Mookie Wilson. But when the younger Wilson made it to the Majors himself in 1998-99, he not only improved on the power production in a next generation, but also dedicated himself to doing that "little bit here and there."
Wilson is now embarking on his latest project in promoting reading in St. Louis, his current professional home. Wilson came over just in time to earn his first World Series ring in 2006.
"We'll read to kids in library," he said. "They'll ask us some questions. In asking us to promote literacy, you have to have the kids read a certain amount. In these programs, the one who reads the most books gets a prize. Anytime you can get kids to read, it's a good thing."
Wilson jumped into community work with both feet when he played with the Marlins from 1998 to 2002. He founded "Preston's Pride" and "Preston's Operation: Back to School" programs to help underprivileged and at-risk children. He also served as spokesman for the South Florida Blood Banks Sickle Cell Program.
But the thing he had the most fun with was "Preston's Pals," a program he continued when he moved on to the Colorado Rockies in 2003.
"We'd bring groups of kids out to the stadium and I'd talk to them a little while," Wilson said. "They'd sit in the outfield, behind where I was playing in center field. I'd give them a tour of the ballpark. Some of them probably never saw a baseball game before and never would. It was held usually every Friday or Saturday at home with between 15 and 25 in the ballpark.
"A lot of those kids are forced to grow up really, really fast. They see a lot of things most people only see on the news. They needed a chance to be a kid."
Another program close to Wilson's heart was Adopt-A-Classroom.
"Schools couldn't afford certain supplies, and we'd help them get them," he said. "Some of those schools were really under-funded. The kids don't have the supplies a lot of other schools had."
Wilson still had time to participate in programs like the African-American Council of Christian Clergy's "A Dream Come True" and Sharon Robinson's "Breaking Barriers" programs, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He also created a college scholarship at Bamberg Erhardt (South Carolina) High School, his alma mater, where he was valedictorian.
Much of his good work was recognized. Wilson earned the Marlins' 2001 All-Heart Award, given to the player who best exemplified the team's commitment to the South Florida community. He also won the 2003 Rockies Good Guy award, voted by the Denver chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.