Any debate about the Phillies most valuable everyday player this season has centerfielder Shane Victorino high on the list. He has been one of the club's leading hitters all season, and he has fielded his position flawlessly, evidenced by the fact he has yet to commit an error.
The native of Wailuku, Hawaii - his nickname is "The Flyin' Hawaiian" - has become almost as well known for his charitable causes as for his baseball prowess. Last week, the 30-year-old Victorino was named the 20th winner of the Branch Rickey Award, presented by the Rotary Club of Denver to a Major League Baseball player for his charitable work. Through funding from the Shane Victorino Foundation, a newly renovated Boys and Girls Club will soon open in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia. His foundation has also provided about $500,000 toward Boys and Girls Clubs in Hawaii.
Inquirer sports writer Ray Parrillo recently talked with Victorino about his foundation and other topics. You might be surprised to find out what one of the most popular foods in Hawaii is.
Question: When you decided to form the Shane Victorino Foundation, why did you choose to rehabilitate Boys and Girls Clubs?
Shane Victorino: I wanted to help kids. When talking with some advisers who had worked with foundations in the past, people who worked with Andre Agassi, and he was very successful working with Boys and Girls Clubs in Las Vegas. Also, Major League Baseball is a big sponsor of Boys and Girls Clubs, so that factored into it. So there were some tie-ins. And when I was a kid, I would go to Boys and Girls Clubs, and I saw how kids benefited from them. Some of these kids come from very low-income families, and I thought it was important they have somewhere to go. When we contacted Philadelphia and asked about areas that needed the most help, the Nicetown Boys and Girls Club was among those that needed the most help. The building was going to get shut down so we decided to put money into it so we could keep it going.
Q: One of your strengths as a player is your speed. Did you ever run track?
Victorino: Yes. I still hold the state record of 10.8 seconds in the 100 meters, which I ran when I was in high school. The record is for non-wind-aided. My senior year I won the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races in the high school championship meet. I was blessed to have speed. I didn't have much time to work on it because I also played baseball, and I was more focused on that.
Q: When did you become a switch hitter?
Victorino: I did it my second year of pro ball, when I was 20. I did it for a short season in single-A ball, and then I gave up on it and just batted righthanded. And then when I got to double-A ball when I was 22, my hitting coach said he thought I'd make a pretty good switch-hitter, so I took on the challenge at 22. Before that I'd been a righthanded hitter all my life.
Q: What is one of the most popular foods in Hawaii?
Victorino: There's a lot of food in Hawaii you can't get here. But one of the most popular is Spam, and you can get that at any supermarket here. Yes, Spam is big in Hawaii. You can use it in a lot of different ways. We do Spam with eggs and rice rather than bacon. We make rice balls with Spam on it wrapped in seaweed. Spam might be the No. 1 food in Hawaii, and I don't know why. I never got to the bottom of that. But it is, and I like it.
Q: What's your ethnic background?
Victorino: I'm Portuguese, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese. My name is really Victorine, which is Portuguese. My great-, great-grandpa, when he was in the war, they spelled his name with an O at the end instead of an E, and it became Victorino.
Q: Is this the best Phillies team you've played on?
Victorino: Well, for now I'd have to say 2008 because we won the World Series, but if you put both teams on paper, then talentwise this is the best team I've ever played on from top to bottom. But it remains to be seen. If we win it all then this will probably go down as the best team in Phillies history.