Ozzie praises All-Star Week volunteers, teachers

Ozzie praises All-Star Week volunteers, teachers

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ozzie Smith was selected to 15 All-Star Games, tied for 10 starts in Major League Baseball history, all as a National League shortstop. That included the last time the event was played here in 1985, as he went the distance at short in the NL's 6-1 victory at the Metrodome.

Now the Wizard of Oz is back in his element as part of All-Star Week in Minnesota, and his role is a pretty valuable one again. The Hall of Famer spoke to a floor full of red-clad volunteers inside Target Center right before the Gillette Home Run Derby got underway next door, encouraging and thanking them during a full day of packing 10,000 kits with all the basic school supplies, and those kits will go to underserved youths.

Smith is a spokesman for the Target All-Star Volunteer Event, leading the charge to make sure that the Minneapolis-based company's annual back-to-school action is as inclusive as possible this year.

"It's great," Smith said. "Part of [Target's] giving is honoring teachers this year, and the fact that as of the end of 2015 they will have given $1 billion to help education is very, very important. I think that's one of the ways we're going to make our communities better, by honoring our teachers.

"Teachers have always been a big part of my life, they've always stressed the importance of getting a good education. I think that's one thing that's going to generate better citizens for us, and that's getting kids to understand the importance of getting a good education."

It is part of a multifaceted effort involving Target and MLB to raise awareness of educating the masses, and that will include the introduction of the "Target Presents People All-Star Teachers" winners in the on-field ceremony before the 85th All-Star Game on Tuesday night on FOX at 8 p.m. ET at Target Field.

"Teachers are everyday heroes," Smith told the volunteers. "Giving back is one of the great satisfactions we have in life. So any time I have a chance to volunteer I do, and it's great to see the number of volunteers here, working hard to try to make kids' lives a little better."

In less than two weeks, Smith will be among at least 50 Hall of Famers who will welcome six new inductees into Cooperstown immortality. It will match the record for most in any single Hall of Fame induction class in history, as Baseball Writers' Association of America electees Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas join Expansion Era Committee electees Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre for their most celebrated baseball achievement.

It will be much different than in 2002, when Smith went in alone. There are now 306 Hall of Fame members, 68 of whom are living.

"It's going to be OK for me, because I won't have the pressure of having to stand up and give a speech," he said with a smile. "For all of them, it's going to be a little nerve-wracking.

"For all of them who think there won't be a moment of some tears shed, I think they're kidding themselves. It's going to be a very special time."

Laysha Ward, president of community relations at Target, said it was an honor to have Smith among those MLB legends who have contributed their time throughout this campaign. Ward considers crayons her own favorite school supply -- "I love the opportunity to express myself," she explained -- and she said it is time to ensure that all kids can choose their own favorites.

"Target is so committed to education. We want young people to know that education matters, that they matter, and that teachers matters," Ward said. "During this back-to-school season, we're really thrilled that we're going to have an opportunity to make sure that all kids have the supplies they need. They're really ready to go back to school with pencils and paper and glue and everything else they need.

"So often kids in underserved communities think that supplies are a luxury. We don't want school supplies to be a luxury. So through this partnership with the Kids in Need Foundation and the awesome Target volunteers, we're going to be able to make sure that every kid has supplies they need to be successful throughout the school year."

Target is synonymous with this Midsummer Classic, with its presence everywhere you go around here. Indeed, the entire sports-entertainment area in this section of Minneapolis was designed with the corporation's leadership, and this is a moment for which many of them have waited.

"For Target and for the entire state of Minnesota, it is such an incredible honor to be hosting this All-Star Game and to be celebrating All-Star Teachers," Ward said. "We have an incredible community here in the state of Minnesota. We are really proud to show off all we have to offer, quite frankly to the world, and we know that everyone who is here or is tuning in in some form are really going to love the city as much as we do. It will be a place they want to come back and visit."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.