DETROIT -- For the Tigers, the effort to stop bullying in Michigan's schools was local, an effort to reach out to the community. For reliever Phil Coke, it was personal, having experienced bullying while growing up.
For Major League Baseball, the effort was a shining example of making a difference, earning the Tigers the annual Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence.
The Detroit Tigers Foundation, an affiliate of Ilitch Charities, will receive a $10,000 grant from MLB in honor of the award.
"I am proud of the Detroit Tigers for making such a significant commitment to addressing the issue of bullying in their home state of Michigan," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "The Tigers' efforts to educate young people and teachers about preventing and reducing bullying in schools throughout their state are remarkable, and I congratulate their entire organization for receiving this award."
The Tigers' anti-bullying efforts have been going on for a few years. The team partnered with Michigan KIDS and the Newspaper In Education programs to develop Strike Out Bullying, part of the Detroit Tigers Anti-Bullying program that provides students and educators with tools to address and manage bullying in schools. It was distributed throughout Michigan schools, reaching 90 percent of the state's counties. Since it launched in 2011, the program has reached nearly 250,000 students across Michigan.
"This award is an acknowledgement of the Tigers' steadfast commitment as a social institution," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. "The prevalence of bullying in the lives of today's children is astonishing, and the resulting effect on its victims is frightening. We are especially proud to be part of the movement to prevent bullying and humbled to be recognized for our efforts."
In 2012, Coke testified about his own experiences with bullying before members of the National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence as part of a two-day discussion in Detroit. Coke's former manager with the Yankees, Joe Torre, was a co-chair on the task force.
"There's just things that can and should be done instead of turning a blind eye to it," Coke said at the time. "Light is being shed on it, and it's for a good reason. And things that I heard, like the school shootings, it comes down to the kid having an issue because he was picked on by a group of kids, so he took matters into his hands. There's no reason for that to happen, none. That's an extreme case, but on a day-to-day basis, we can keep that kind of stuff from happening if we're just willing to pay a little more attention."
Last offseason, the Tigers devoted a stop on their annual Winter Caravan to talk to kids and parents at Royal Oak Middle School about bullying. Both Coke and Prince Fielder discussed their own personal experiences.
Coke talked about being roughed up as a freshman in high school on the wrestling team. Even the 5-foot-11, 275-pound Fielder, never a small kid among his peers in schools, had stories about how smaller kids would take their kicks and punches at him to try to knock him down to size.
"You shouldn't hold that inside. You want to make sure you get that out so it doesn't affect you and your character," Fielder said.
Other MLB clubs have also supported several anti-bullying organizations and campaigns over the years, including the "It Gets Better" project.