To understand the importance of Doug Baldwin's Family Combine, which will take place Saturday at Renton Memorial Stadium, you have to go back to a teriyaki joint in Renton that Baldwin and Richard Sherman frequented when they were rookies sharing a house nearby.
Actually, it goes back further than that, back to Pensacola, Florida and the Southern Youth Sports Association that Baldwin says helped him "become the man that I am today."
Because as much as this weekend's event is a chance for families to enjoy a fun day in the sun while interacting with a Pro-Bowl wide receiver, it's really about supporting a project near and dear to his heart, the Family First Community Center he is working to build in Renton.
People wanting to take part in the family combine can register here, and can do so knowing the money is going to a good cause that is two-plus years in the making. Partnering with the City of Renton and the Renton School District, Baldwin has put countless hours, as well as $1 million of his own money, towards bringing a community center to Renton that will allow area children to have the same positive experience that he had at the SYSA when he was a child.
Baldwin still supports SYSA, including through the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative, but during frequent visits early in his Seahawks career to Momma's Teriyaki, which has since closed, Baldwin saw a wonderful, welcoming place, but he also saw kids with limited options for after-school activities.
"When I first got here, that area is where I stayed, Sherm and I rented a house there, so we became really close with the community," Baldwin said. "And I became close with a family in that area that owned what was called Momma's Teriyaki at the time—she has now moved to the UW—and she took us in. She didn't know we were football players, but she'd always give us extra chicken, she just took care of us. It was a really welcoming feeling, she did that with all the kids in that area. It was just a really warm feeling I got from that community, but being around there so often, you saw that kids didn't have anything to do, they were just hanging out at Momma's Teriyaki, no activities after school. So just talking to members of the community and thinking about how I can make a positive impact, the community center is what I landed on.
"The reason I picked a community center is because the community center in Florida, it allowed me to become the man that I am today in terms of holding me accountable in terms of academics, holding me accountable in terms of my work ethics. The life lessons that are taught through sports, I was taught at that community center, so I wanted to replicate that in some way."
REGISTER: Doug Baldwin's Family Combine
When it opens—the hope is to break ground in February of 2019 with a 12-18-month timeline for completion—the Family First Community Center will not only be a place for kids to play sports or hang out after school and in the summer, but also a place for families to go for health resources.
"I wanted to replicate it in a way that I could build upon it, so we partnered with HealthPoint, the school district and the city to establish something that's going to be a multi-service, multifaceted facility," Baldwin said. "So not only are you going to get the athletic portion of it, the recreational portion of it, but because we want to serve families, involving HealthPoint allows us to serve families in terms of getting dental assistance, health assistance, social assistance, whatever it may be, they can come to this facility and get resources. Then with the school district, after school programs, summer programs, all of those things will be implemented in this facility, giving kids in that area, who really don't have anything like that right now, an avenue to expand health and wellness not only as families, but also the entirety of the community."
The Family First Community Center is well on its way to becoming a reality, with about $11 million raised towards a $15 million goal. That money has come from the City of Renton ($4 million), First Financial Northwest Foundation ($3 million) the state ($1.5 million), private donors and Baldwin himself, but the Seahawks receiver has given a lot more than just his money to the project.
"Doug has been an invaluable partner in our shared vision of providing a positive environment for kids and families in our community," Renton Mayor Denis Law said in an email. "We have come a long way with this effort thanks to Doug's total commitment and sincere passion for this project. He's not here just in name. He has been with us every step of the way!"
The next step along the way is Saturday's Family Combine, which promises to not only be a fun event, but also an important one in helping area kids experience the same thing Baldwin did as a child thanks to a supportive local community center.
"The overwhelming emotion that I get when I think about what that second family did for me was that they really held me accountable to the young man that I said I wanted to be," Baldwin said. "I said I wanted to get into the NFL. They said, 'OK, we're going to give you all the tools you need to get there, and we're going to hold you accountable academically, we're going to hold you accountable in your work ethic, and make sure if you really want to do this, we're going to push you do it.' They did that, they never let up. Even in times when I got arrogant or I got cocky or I got complacent and lazy, they were always on me, and it was in a loving way. I just feel like sometimes a lot of kids don't have that support system. That was so invaluable to me, and I can't put a price on it. That's the overwhelming feeling I get when I think about the community center back home, so I want to make that the same type of atmosphere when kids come to this community center."
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin held his interactive inaugural family combine on June 25, 2017 at Renton Memorial Stadium