Royals minor-leaguer MJ Melendez had never been to these areas of Puerto Rico.
He’s made plenty of trips to the island where his parents, Mervyl and Aixa, were born. But he’d never seen the type of squalor he has witnessed this week while visting three Boys and Girls Clubs as part of a charity drive he organized to help the less fortunate.
Melendez, whom the Royals selected in the second round of the draft in June out of Westminster Christian in Miami, traveled to communities where, like other areas on the island, the poverty level was exacerbated by the passage of Hurricane Maria in September.
Things are slowly returning to normal after the Category 5 storm ravaged the island.
Yet hot meals are still hard to come by for kids in Lloren Torres, Loiza and Torres de Sabana, the three sites where Melendez and his father, who is the baseball coach at Florida International University, spent time on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Boys and Girls Clubs there have struggled to provide much help in the last few months.
“It’s really sad to see the poverty and what people here have to deal with. I really feel for them,” Melendez, 19, told The Star by phone. “When Irma came through, on the east coast of Florida, we didn’t get very much damage. But we still got a pretty decent amount of damage, trees down, no power for a week and a half. … I couldn’t imagine (the island without power). I wanted to help with relief efforts. I wanted to do anything possible to help.”
Melendez spent a significant portion of his offseason raising money to donate in time for the Christmas holiday. In about a month, he organized and hosted a baseball camp in South Florida that drew 65 kids and raised $5,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico.
“I wasn’t sure how it would turn out,” said Melendez, who played 47 games for the rookie-level Arizona League Royals this season. “It was the first camp with my name on it. It was really important for me to raise a lot of money and have a lot of kids (attend). … I really wanted it go well. The camp and what people donated exceeded my expectations.”
Melendez hopes the donation will provide some relief in the future.
In the meantime, he is glad he could share lighthearted moments with kids during this trip, playing pool and video games and talking about baseball.
“Even though I didn’t go through the things they’ve been through and are going through,” Melendez said. “I’m just happy to be able to give them a bit of hope and happiness.”