In a year of no baseball, it is hard to find a bright light anywhere to celebrate America’s national pastime. But now we have one: Seattle Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon, who on April 23 was named winner of the 55th Hutch Award.
A two-time All Star, a Gold Glove Award winner and one of the best base-stealers in the game, Gordon has dazzled Seattle fans with his speed and acrobatic play since he joined the team in 2018.
Yet it is his off-the-field generosity and empathy for kids who come from homes affected by domestic violence that make his selection for the Hutch Award particularly apt during this stressful year. Gordon relates so well to these children because he experienced it himself.
The Hutch Award was established in 1965 to honor each year a Major League ballplayer whose grit, determination and humanity recall the spirit of legendary Seattle native Fred “Hutch” Hutchinson, a pitching great who was managing the Cincinnati Reds when he died of cancer. To honor his brother, Seattle surgeon Dr. Bill Hutchinson founded Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which opened its doors in 1975.
“The Hutch Award means the world to me,” said Gordon by telephone, as he was sheltering safely at his Orlando home with his wife, Joalisya, and their 2-month-old daughter, Demi. “And this would not be possible without my wife. She’s been with me every step of the way.”
“Just to be in the same category with some of the great names that have been associated with the Hutch Award is awesome. But especially at this time, it makes me feel good to be a humanitarian in my communities, now that everyone kind of has to look out for each other,” he said.
Gordon is the third Seattle Mariner to win the Hutch Award. Jamie Moyer won it 2003, Raúl Ibañez in 2013. The first award was given to Mickey Mantle, one year after Hutch’s death.
Gordon grew up with baseball in his veins. His father, Thomas “Flash” Gordon, spent 21 years in the Major Leagues as a right-handed pitcher, both as a starter and a reliever. He played for eight teams, most of his career with the Kansas City Royals. Yet the younger Gordon only got to know his father later in his youth.
Gordon's early childhood was traumatic. His mother, whom he remembers with deep love, raised him as a single mom. He was just a 7-year-old attending school in Florida when her boyfriend shot and killed her.
“That pain, it is something that is recurring. You never get over it. Even though I now have a daughter, I would be like, ‘I wish my mom could meet her,’” Gordon said.
He overcame that grief in part by his love for basketball, where he was a star point guard through high school, with an eye toward a pro career. But his father and uncle urged him to switch to baseball. “I thought they were crazy, but I guess they were right,” he laughed.
At 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 170 pounds., Gordon is often one of the smaller players on the field. Yet, at 32, he is a consistent hitter and still one of the quickest base runners in the league.
Gordon idolized some of the stars on his dad’s baseball teams, particularly Jimmy Rollins, the retired shortstop of the Philadelphia Phillies, a one-time National League MVP (2007) and now an NBC sportscaster.
“He was nice, always cool with me,” Gordon said. “Even when we eventually played against each other. We still talk now, so he’s my guy.”
A religious man, Gordon was raised in the church by his family on both his mother’s and father’s sides.
“I’m not perfect in my faith, but I definitely know right from wrong, and I want to use the blessings I’ve got. My contract to play baseball was a blessing, and I want to help people as much as I can,” he said.
— Dee Gordon, 55th Hutch Award winner
So, as a star player on the Miami Marlins, he began looking for ways to channel his grief, memorialize his mom and give back to the community. In 2015, he created Flash of Hope to support kids in the city who have lived with domestic violence.
In the mornings before games, he would invite children from such backgrounds to visit him in the dugout. He would provide game tickets, gift cards, T-shirts and meals. They could watch batting practice on the field.
In the dugout, he’d chat with family members and share their personal experiences. He would read up about the families and know what they were going through.
“The families and kids didn’t think I’d remember them, and that I was just there to hug the kids and ask them, ‘How’s school?’ But then they’re like, ‘He remembered us!’ It made me feel good,” Gordon said.
When he was traded to Seattle in 2018, he brought Flash of Hope with him, and he served as a spokesman for Refuse to Abuse, a partnership with Mariners Care and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Gordon is also supporting international efforts to help families in some of the poorest corners of the world. He joined the Food for the Hungry and Striking Out Poverty campaigns to provide clean water, medical aid, food, vocational training and equal-educational opportunities for boys and girls.
In 2017, he raised $23,000 for families in the Dominican Republic through pledging funds for every base he stole during that season. In 2018, he traveled to an impoverished corner of Rwanda, a nation still recovering from an unimaginable spasm of genocidal violence in 1994. He also raised funds to buy milk and diapers for 450 families of young children living in Syrian refugee camps
Gordon is also extending a helping hand during this time. He’s contributed to DAWN, a South King County shelter for women and their children fleeing domestic violence, and he has contributed to free food distribution efforts in Orlando.
“Don’t give up,” is his message. “I want to show people you can do it, without going wrong,” Gordon said. “There is a lot that can rock you in the wrong way. I just want people to see that the smallest dude in the Major Leagues can become somebody. That it’s going to be OK. That I had the same issues growing up.”
The Hutch Award winner is traditionally honored at the annual Hutch Award Luncheon, which raises critical funds for lifesaving research at Fred Hutch. While this year’s in-person event at T-Mobile Park has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, supporters can still step up to the plate and donate to Fred Hutch. This year, donations will be part of Fred Hutch’s #GivingTuesdayNow campaign, which will fuel research to end the COVID-19 pandemic, from tracking the virus to developing tests, treatments and vaccines.
In addition, Fred Hutch will honor Gordon this spring with a virtual event that will include him and other special guests from around the game. Visit fredhutch.org/hutchaward soon for more details.
Sabin Russell is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. For two decades he covered medical science, global health and health care economics for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote extensively about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and a freelance writer for the New York Times and Health Affairs.
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