With Sunday's appearance, the reigning American League batting champion and Tigers team MVP officially announced the Ordonez Family Scholarship. The $2,500-per-year scholarship will be awarded to one southwest Detroit area high school senior each year and renewable for up to four years.
It was his family's way of giving back to the city, by giving the opportunity he didn't really have.
"If you want to be somebody in your life, you have to have an education," Ordonez said Sunday. "For me, I didn't have the opportunity to go to college. I signed when I was 17 years old. The way that I can give something to the people here in Detroit is to help them out with a scholarship and also with the support of the Detroit Tigers."
The scholarship is more than a sign of how much Ordonez and his family value education. It's a sign of how much they've grown to value their baseball home.
This coming season will be Ordonez's fourth as a Tiger. He came to town with a lucrative free-agent contract prior to the 2005 season and a promise from team owner Mike Ilitch to build the team into a contender. He had been to the city as a visiting player with the White Sox for years, but didn't really know much about the place. Fans, in turn, knew Ordonez as a great hitter but didn't know what kind of person he was.
The relationship has blossomed on both sides, especially after Ordonez's walkoff home run to send the Tigers to the World Series two years ago.
"I have to give something back to the community," he said. "People here in Detroit, they've been really nice to me. They've supported me the last three years. It's a way I can do something for the fans and the people here in Detroit.
"I'm really happy. The more that I know the city, the more that I know the state of Michigan, I like it even more every year."
The fact that the scholarship will target southwest Detroit has significance. The area has a big Latino presence, including the Mexican Village neighborhood near Tiger Stadium. It's an area Ordonez had never seen before, and as he took a look around while he drove in for the ceremony, he saw kids outside playing. He transitioned easily between Spanish and English as he addressed the crowded parish hall, then talked to the Little Leaguers.
The Latino presence on the Tigers has grown. As Ordonez pointed out, the only prominent such players on the team when he signed were Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen.
"And now," Ordonez said, "we've got 15 Latino players [on the 40-man roster]."
Ordonez said he plans to talk to them about giving back.
Much as he might like to take all the credit for his effort, he readily calls his wife, Dagly, the "mastermind" behind the idea, along with the club. With a large donation from the Ordonez family to the Detroit Tigers Foundation, the team worked with the Southwest Detroit Business Association, which hosted Sunday's event, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, which will administer the scholarship and the selection process.
To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be a resident of southwest Detroit, generally recognized as the area of the city south of Interstate 94 and west of the I-75/I-96 interchange. They also must have attended a high school in southwest Detroit for their entire secondary education. Interested students who qualify can contact the Community Foundation or their high school guidance counselor.
The application deadline for the inaugural scholarship is April 1. If Ordonez plays out his entire Tigers contract, including the two option years, he could be around to see the first student graduate from a four-year college.