Max Scherzer lived and breathed baseball as a child in Chesterfield, Missouri, a western suburb of St. Louis. The hometown Cardinals, led by shortstop Ozzie Smith, ignited Scherzer’s passion for baseball. He'd hit the fields in Chesterfield every day of his summer, practicing and enjoying the game he loved.
"It’s all I dreamed about," Scherzer says. "That was some of my best memories as a child. It was a hot summer day, going up to the fields and playing games all summer. Whether it was a weekday or weekends, traveling for tournaments, those are some of my best memories."
Coming off his first no-hitter, against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20, Scherzer wants to give kids in Washington to create summer baseball memories of their own. This season, he and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, have teamed with the Nationals Dream Foundation to launch a new program called Baseball Cards for a Cause. The program allows fans to send a baseball card, along with $25 donation (check or money order) to the program, and in exchange, Scherzer will sign the card and send it back. If you want to contribute, here's the mailing address:
Baseball Cards for a Cause
1500 S Capitol St SE
Washington, DC 20003
The money will go toward the Washington National Youth Baseball Academy, which serves to develop local at-risk students with a passion for baseball.
Scherzer was never a baseball card enthusiast, but his wife grew up collecting them with her father and sister in Colorado.
"I know how exciting it was when you would get an autograph and you would have a really fun card," May-Scherzer says. "To see the direction that autographs have gone in the last decade or so, it’s kind of changing that experience for a lot of young fans, so it’s nice to bring that feeling back."
Scherzer and his wife met in college at Missouri, where both were athletes, and have been together since. May-Scherzer said wherever her husband has been -- Mobile, Fort Worth, La Crosse, Arizona, Detroit and now Washington -- they have tried to get involved in the community.
It wasn't until the couple got to Detroit that the idea of trading autographs for charity was put to use. The Tigers launched "Autographs for a Cause" and Scherzer took part during his five seasons with the team.
Once Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals, he and May-Scherzer knew they wanted to bring the cause with them. At the end of the season, Scherzer will match all funds raised through Baseball Cards for a Cause.
“When we came here, both Max and I, were just adamant," May-Scherzer says. "We really wanted to continue this program, so we reached out to the Dream Foundation and the team and asked them if we could bring the program. … We tweaked a few things, but it’s overall the same idea and it's inspired by what we did out there."
Baseball Cards for a Cause launched in May and will continue through the season. Not only is the program raising money, but it also might eliminate the infamous autograph hawks that attempt to re-sell autographs for profit.
They've followed Scherzer to his hotel room, watched him during dinner and knocked on cab windows. He said the hawks have made the act of signing autographs harder for athletes.
"It really kind of ruins the experience," Scherzer says. "The other part of this program is that it really connects the fans with the players and makes sure that the true fans are getting [autographs]. I know that when I’m signing these autographs, I'm making someone’s day. At the end of the day, every athlete and celebrity loves to be able to do that."
As his name continues to rise in prominence, so does his autograph.
"Especially when you throw a no-hitter,” Scherzer says, laughing. “Everybody loves talking about a no-hitter."
He said he's hoping this program will help him reach his new fans, whether in Washington or across the country. However, it's the kids working at the Youth Baseball Academy that make this program worth it for Scherzer.
"I understand, being a player here in Washington, that it’s also my responsibility to make it exciting for the kids that want to play baseball and encourage them to play baseball in the summer," he says. "I love the game to death, so I hope that there are kids out there that share the same passion."