SHANE VICTORINO obviously didn't get the memo that charitable donations in this country fell 3.6 percent last year - the biggest annual drop in philanthropy since 1956.

The thinking is that Americans, jittery about the economy, won't share their cash until they feel confident they won't be needing it themselves.

Phillies' outfielder Victorino, 29, sneered at that fear this week, when he announced the formation of his new charity, the Shane Victorino Foundation.

The first lucky recipient of his munificence? The Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia.

The size of his pledge? An eye-popping $900,000.

Now that's a grand slam.

The money will be used to renovate the 118-year-old Nicetown branch of the B&GC of Philly, which has 12 locations in the city. Man, does the sad Wayne Avenue site need rescue.

It still has its original wiring and plumbing, which are shot. Its windows and roof are crumbling. And the foundation has scary structural problems.

The $900,000 will bring the building, which will be named for Victorino, up to code and up to cool for the 100-plus kids who partake in its many cultural, academic and athletic programs.

Work will begin this summer and take about 18 months to complete - fastball speed for a facility whose overhaul wasn't even on the horizon five weeks ago.

That's when Victorino's manager contacted the national B&GC to say the Flyin' Hawaiian wanted to partner with the Philadelphia chapter.

"I've been in fundraising since 1976, and I've been speechless maybe twice," says Al Mollica, chief development officer of the Philly B&GC, an institution that's been around since 1887.

"This was one of those times. I actually thought it was a joke when I got the call from our national guy, because he's kind of a prankster. Most of our funding is federal, and our private donations are about $700,000 per year. To receive far more than that in one feel swoop is unheard of for us. I'm still in shock."

Me, I'm impressed that an athlete as young as Victorino is pledging big money so soon in his career. Many athletes spend their early years accumulating their wealth, knowing they're just one blown-out knee or ripped-up shoulder away from ending their high-paid days.

Better to hoard the cash, invest it wisely and dole it out only when it truly won't be missed.

Granted, Victorino signed a $22 million, three-year contract extension in January. By any measure, he's got bucks to burn on the backyard grill.

Still, compared with the MLB's highest salaries - Ryan Howard's $125 million comes to mind - he's almost middle-class.

So what made him do it?

"I'm always thinking about what it means to be a role model," said Victorino, speaking by phone from the home he shares with wife, Melissa, and their toddler, who could be heard scampering in the background.

"I want kids to look at the Shane Victorino building and think, 'He did something good for us. Maybe I'll do something good for someone else.' That means more to me than dollars."

Do you love this guy?

As an alum of the Boys & Girls Clubs in his native Maui, Victorino has fond memories of his after-school hours there. So when he and Melissa pondered where to commit philanthropy dollars, he felt an affinity for the organization (already a favorite charity of Major League Baseball).

And he felt almost greater affection for Philadelphia, his in-season home since 2005.

"Everyone says how tough this city is on athletes," Victorino said. "But when I got here, I could feel the fans' passion right away. They care so much. I know the World Championship two years ago helped" - oh, did it ever! - "but the city has done so much for me, it feels like it's time to give back."

Victorino isn't the first Phillies player to open his wallet to an excellent cause, of course.

Pitcher Jamie Moyer's charity, for example, helps kids in emotional, physical and financial distress. Cole Hamels' foundation tackles inner-city education, HIV/AIDS and global poverty.

And plenty of individual players make smaller donations to numerous causes.

It's wonderful, all of it.

What's particularly neat about Victorino's charity, though, is that he plans to concentrate his giving on big-impact projects in Philadelphia and in Hawaii, as opposed to sprinkling his philanthropy globally, on smaller ones.

In Nicetown, especially, he hopes the B&GC renovation will have a "wow!" effect on a neighborhood that could use the joy.

That's why he's putting more than his name on the building and his money into the plumbing. He plans to sort of adopt the branch by stopping in to talk with the kids, see how they're doing and encourage them to be like the guy whose name is on the building.

A good man, who gives back.

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

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