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More than your average rookie: Marlins shortstop JT Riddle already giving back to community that raised him

Friday night’s silent auction was Riddle’s latest contribution, with proceeds benefiting WeWannaPlay.

Auction items included Riddle’s game-worn gear from Mother’s Day 2017.
Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

It’s typical for Miami Marlins players to spend their offseasons away from South Florida. Most of them have friends and families outside of baseball who remain in their cozy communities, even when a loved one makes it to the big leagues. So the players choose to “go home” for the holidays rather than try to recreate that experience in the Magic City.

For shortstop JT Riddle, that special place is Frankfort, Kentucky. Years before April’s MLB debut, he was already a significant figure in the area.

In 2010, Riddle became the first Western Hills High School player ever selected in the amateur draft (35th round by Boston Red Sox). After refining his game for three years at the University of Kentucky, the Marlins signed him as their 13th-round pick.

Still fairly unestablished within the Marlins farm system, Riddle had the itch to give back following the 2014 season. He started the Riddler Baseball School and provided lessons over the winter for players of various age groups.

“Growing up, there was never anyone with that big name or anything from my home town,” he wrote on the school’s website. “I wanted to be that person, therefore I set forth my goal of chasing my dream to be a professional baseball player.”

Photo courtesy of Riddle Baseball School
Photo courtesy of Riddle Baseball School

Riddle began chasing that dream from an early age, according to Jeff Howard, Sr., chairperson of WeWannaPlay. Howard’s nonprofit organization serves Frankfort and the rest of Franklin county, raising funds to help children from financially disadvantaged families participate in youth sports. He knew Riddle as a little leaguer (9-10 years old) and coached him personally as a teenager.

“While watching JT grow up, it was obvious there was something special about him,” Howard told Fish Stripes. “His footwork, hand-eye coordination and basic fundamentals were far above most of the other kids. I have always admired his knowledge and dedication towards the game. During his youth years, he definitely fulfilled the saying of ‘he eats, drinks, and sleeps this stuff’.”

Photos by @riddle_shane/Twitter

Riddle stayed consistent with that mindset. Now, he has ascended to the world’s highest level of competition and is proving he belongs—walk-off home runs, smooth double plays and much more from his first half-season with the Fish. When fully recovered from August shoulder surgery, he projects to be their primary shortstop in 2018.

Riddle is a legitimately “big name” to Franklin county’s developing athletes, and thanks to him, they’ll have a better opportunity to follow in his footsteps. Last Friday night, the 26-year-old returned to Western Hills to host a silent auction with all proceeds benefiting WeWannaPlay.

Photo courtesy of riddlemethis4/Instagram

In advance, Riddle took to his Instagram account to showcase the available items (use arrows on the sides of the images to browse):

WeWannaPlay fundraises with events throughout the year, but Howard says this was their first time trying a silent auction. Riddle suggested the idea himself. Whereas many other players would be reluctant to part with memorabilia from their rookie campaign, he donated all of this and generated $1,150 for the next generation.

The Marlins traded several core players earlier this offseason, and Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto are currently drawing interest from around the league. However, Riddle’s status seems more secure, as he’s under club control through at least 2023.

Regardless of MLB performance, hopefully Miami will get to know this side of Riddle that has already made such an impact in his hometown.