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Thursday, February 2, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Royals' Billy Butler humbled by Hutch Award

By Larry Stone
Seattle Times staff reporter

Kansas City designated hitter Billy Butler had no idea of the significance of the Hutch Award when he was informed of the honor a month ago.

Then he talked to one of the past winners, former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney. Sweeney gushed about the emotional impact of touring the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Next, Butler perused the list of past winners, from Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax to Willie McCovey and Paul Molitor. All told, 12 Hall of Famers have won — and Craig Biggio (2005), Trevor Hoffman (2004) and possibly Curt Schilling (2001) could get to Cooperstown as well.

Butler started to get that this was a pretty big deal. That feeling was reinforced Wednesday when he visited the Hutch School and was bestowed with the Dale Chihuly-crafted Hutch Award trophy in a Safeco Field ceremony featuring Cal Ripken Jr.

"After reading up on it and understanding it and talking to Mike, it's obviously quite an honor," Butler said. "It's very humbling to understand what award I've won, because only one player wins each year. Seeing the list of people who won, frankly, I don't think I belong with them."

The Hutch Award was created in 1965 to honor the major-league player who best exemplifies "the honor, courage and dedication" of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson, a former major-league pitcher and manager. Hutchinson's death from lung cancer at age 45 prompted his brother, Seattle surgeon Bill Hutchinson, to create the cancer research center in Seattle.

Butler and his wife, Katie, started the Hit-It-A-Ton campaign in 2008 to help feed disadvantaged families in the Kansas City area. In three years, the campaign has raised more than $200,000 and provided more than 960 tons of food through two food banks and a community kitchen run by Kansas City's Bishop Sullivan Center.

Speaking at the Hutch School — the nation's only full-time school for the children and siblings of cancer victims, as well as the youthful patients themselves — Butler cited a quote by former Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry as one of his guiding principles: "I may not be able to save the world, but I can always feed my neighbor."

In his acceptance speech at Safeco Field, Butler said, "Even the smallest gesture can make a huge difference. That's what I'm trying to do in Kansas City — feed my neighbor."

Ripken said that during his 21-year career with the Orioles, he always regarded community service as an obligation.

"I always thought — and this came from my mom — that you use your fame or your celebrity to shine the light on something that needs to have a light shined on it," he said. "It's a powerful tool if you use it the right way."

Ripken couldn't help but get a sentimental tug as he returned to the scene of one of his greatest moments — his MVP performance in the 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle.

"It has a wonderful feel coming in," he said of Safeco Field. "It reminds me, first and foremost, of my final All-Star Game here. Coming in, it almost feels ceremonial in that way. Then you think back, I hit a home run in my first at-bat, got a wonderful ovation."

Ripken met with a small media contingent in the visiting clubhouse at Safeco.

"It's been 10 years since I dressed in a locker room like this," he said. "Coming to the ballpark, all those good feelings immediately come flowing back to you."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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