Mark Grudzielanek is the archetype of the scrappy middle infielder. The Royals second baseman will slap a ball up the middle, stand in stoutly making the double-play relay throw and explain himself and his team matter-of-factly before and after the game.
Thus, Grudzielanek tackles two health issues straight on in his no-nonsense, non-braggadocio manner. Both juvenile diabetes and prostate cancer hit home for Grudzielanek, and he wanted to do something about it in his lower-key manner.
His brother, Tim, was afflicted with juvenile diabetes when he was 7. Later, after Grudzielanek made the Majors in the mid-1990s with the Montreal Expos, his paternal grandfather died of prostate cancer. These would be the causes in which he would be involved.
"They're getting closer to a cure," Grudzielanek said of juvenile diabetes. "It's gotten to the point where it's more livable, where it doesn't distract your whole day, emotionally as well as physically, to handle your blood sugar level and monitor it. [Tim is] doing well right now."
Now a Gold Glove-winning second baseman for the Royals, Grudzielanek has moved from the Expos to the Dodgers to the Cubs to the Cardinals, before joining his current team. It's not a rootless existence, because he wants to help his causes everywhere he's invited to don a big-league uniform.
"Ever since I've made a little money, I've tried to do things for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation," he said. "Little things here and there, each city I've been in. The biggest one was with Todd Zeile in Los Angeles, a dinner and an auction for UCLA's diabetes organization. It turned out to be a wonderful thing.
"Whatever they need for me to do. Each city is a little different. If it's a little money here, a little auction. In L.A., we got some of the guys involved. For the little time and effort you put in, most of the time it's not the money they want. It's who you are, what you can do for them and how you can help the organization -- raise money."
Had Grudzielanek stayed more than the two seasons he spent in Chicago, he might have linked up with Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo's efforts to fight juvenile diabetes. Santo, of course, gained fame as the first big leaguer to publicly acknowledge playing with the disease. He forged a Hall of Fame-caliber career from 1960 to 1974 in more primitive times, medically, usually not able to measure his blood sugar during games. It was all guesswork.
"The guy is unbelievable," Grudzielanek said. "How he played that long was remarkable. He's done an awful lot. If he would have asked [me to help out with fundraising], I would have been there in a heartbeat."
Grudzielanek already is "there" in also lending his name and pocketbook to the fight against prostate cancer. As with his brother, the decision was deeply emotional.
"My grandpa passed away in my early days in Montreal," he said. "It became my No. 2 thing. I send little amounts of money through the [American] Cancer Society. If something comes up, I'd be the first one in line."
Grudzielanek has not yet set up his charitable rotation in Kansas City, but there's time enough to start.
"We'll help out as much as we can," he said.
Despite being a solid Major League player, Grudzielanek is not motivated by fame. Just the fact he's always in the middle of the infield and at the top of the lineup is reward enough. So is the fact his good name, combined with his big league colleagues, can help so many others.
"Society has become celebrity-conscious," he said. "We can help. It's the least we can do. A few hours a week can help."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.