Boston’s biggest hearts: Four of the hub’s most charitable athletes

Published On February 14, 2013 | By Alice Cook

Let’s all admit it. Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday (with all apologies to the saint it is named after).

The cards are everywhere and made for everyone in our lives whom we love the most. There are cards for our mother, father, husband, boyfriend, sister, son, daughter, and (believe it or not) even our pets. We can find a sentiment written by someone else just for them. Maybe it’s just me, but I happen to think saying “I love you,” to my nearest and dearest is pretty much a year-round thing.

With all that said, I do it every year. I buy the cards, the candy and the flowers. So do millions of others.

So there I was at the Paper Store the other day gazing at the hundreds of hearts everywhere I looked. It made me think why the heart became the symbol of love.

We can’t live without our hearts pumping blood. The heart is life. Our hearts are “broken” when we are disappointed. Our hearts beat harder when we are excited, afraid, nervous or “in love.”

When people show kindness, we say they have “big hearts.” We say, “his heart was in the right place,” when someone makes a mistake that is easy to forgive.

And how many thousand times have we heard about athletes that “play with heart?”

There are also the athletes that give back off the field. It takes heart to do that too. It also takes time, energy, dedication and sacrifice.

In honor of Valentine’s Day and all the sports heroes who become soldiers for a cause, here are my 2013 picks for biggest hearts in Boston from four of our professional teams.

New England Patriots: Zoltan Mesko

Zoltan Mesko with a young hospital patient. (photo from

Zoltan Mesko with a young hospital patient. (photo from

Just in case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Mesko is the Patriots punter. Even though his celebrity status is not big in sports circles, Zoltan has achieved rockstar status with young hospital patients and their parents.

Mesko spends his weekly day off making the rounds at Children’s Hospital, a habit he developed as a college student at University of Michigan. Mesko won the Ron Burton Community Service Award last September, prompting Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft to say, “Zoltan may be the league’s current MVP for his contributions to the community.”

Along with his hospital visits, Mesko is a prominent figure in Celebrate Volunteerism, a program that brought him to the hospitals, veterans homes and Boys and Girls Clubs he frequently visits. He also helped build a playground in Providence and has made numerous appearances for the Make-A Wish Foundation.

It probably is not a reach to say that Mesko has many more volunteer minutes than playing minutes as a member of the Patriots.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia 

Dustin Pedroia with a young Jimmy Fund patient (photo from

Dustin Pedroia with a young Jimmy Fund patient (photo from

Pedroia has a big presence with the Jimmy Fund even though he tries to keep it under the radar. Pedroia’s wife, Kelly, volunteered for the Jimmy Fund when the couple first moved to Boston. Through Kelly, Dustin heard about the kids, the families and the huge rewards of being part of such a tremendous charity.

Pedroia is the Jimmy Fund’s biggest cheerleader when cancer patients visit Fenway Park. He is known to get his teammates out of the clubhouse and into the park to say hello, sign baseballs and pose for photos.

The Jimmy Fund sends close to 50 teenagers down to Spring Training every year in March. When the buses pull up, Dustin is the first one out to greet them. Last year, Pedroia was down with strep throat the day they arrived, but he made sure there were 50 autographed baseballs waiting even though he could not be there.

When a new player joins the team (and there are lots of them this year), Pedroia makes it his responsibility to tell the newcomer about the importance of the Red Sox ties with the Jimmy Fund.

Pedroia has two young children of his own now. His life has changed considerably since he rode that duck boat in a championship parade for the first time in 2007.

As a dad, Pedroia can appreciate even more the amazing miracles that happen off the field every day thanks to the Jimmy Fund  

Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce at a Truth on Health event. (photo from

In 2002, Pierce founded “The Truth Fund” to provide educational and life-enriching opportunities to under-served youth. His charitable efforts only continued from there.

Believe it or not, the Celtics captain and ten-time All-Star used to be an overweight kid. After the 2008 Celtics championship, the Finals MVP launched “The Truth on Health Campaign” to help and encourage young people to lead healthier lifestyles.

Pierce has teamed up with the William J. Clinton Foundation to create a healthier generation by addressing childhood obesity, one of the nation’s leading health threats.

FitClub34 is a rewards-based fan club turned fit-club which inspires kids to eat healthy and get exercise. The number of kids he is helping to fight weight problems is remarkable.

Pierce grew up across the street from a Hostess outlet in Los Angeles. He tells stories about how his fondness for cupcakes and Twinkies made him a “roly-poly’ kid. Pierce overcame his childhood chubbiness when a growth spurt caused him to grow to 6-foot-7. His activity as a basketball player took care of the rest.

Pierce may not be a chubby youngster anymore, but he still has some guilty pleasures. He says his favorite cheat food these days is chocolate ice cream which he is more than happy to share with his daughters (only once in a while).

Boston Bruins: Cam Neely 

Cam Neely at Comics Come Home, an event benefitting the Cam Neely Foundation (photo from Facebook).

The Bruins as a team have a great reputation of giving back to the community, and nobody does it better than Cam Neely.

Once a player, now president of the team, Neely has made his mark with the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. The Neely Foundation was launched in 1995 by Cam and his siblings after they lost both of their parents to cancer.

The Neely House is a residence for families with a loved one undergoing cancer treatment in Boston. Since its inception, the Neely House has raised over 18 million dollars in donations of all sizes.

The logo for the foundation features two M’s in honor of Cam’s mother and father, Michael and Marlene.

Neely was one of the toughest players in the NHL, and Cam has proven even the grittiest of athletes can have a softer side. Originally from Vancouver, the Neely family has given people from all over the world hope and respite in Boston.

Neely’s legacy will always be much bigger than the game of hockey.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the athletes who are devoted to helping those in need, and, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for sharing the love.

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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.