The Texas Rangers star and his wife Alexis will plant the trees in January

By Rachel DeSantis
October 18, 2019 11:48 AM
Credit: Texas Trees Foundation

Texas Rangers star Hunter Pence is going to bat for the environment with a new initiative that’ll see him plant dozens of trees at his former elementary school.

Pence, 36, and his wife Alexis are teaming up with the Texas Trees Foundation to plant 100 trees at J.B. Little Elementary School in Arlington, Texas — the same school Pence attended as a kid.

“My thoughts were, ‘How can we make a difference?’” the MLB star tells PEOPLE. “At the end of the day, if we don’t do something to heal the earth and to pass it on to our future generations, it really doesn’t matter what else we do. We have to protect the earth.”

Through the foundation, Pence and Alexis are sponsoring a Cool Schools program, which will not only plant the trees, but establish a committee of teachers to help design a learning center where students can learn more about the environment.

The four-time All-Star says he knew he wanted to make a difference somehow this offseason, and figured embracing his green thumb was the perfect starting point, since “we’re literally breathing the trees in.”

Hunter and Alexis Pence (right)
| Credit: Texas Trees Foundation

Texas, Pence’s native state and where he currently plays, was a natural choice for the couple, too, especially considering the fact that many of the Lone Star state’s schools don’t have much tree canopy, making scorching temperatures even hotter since there’s no shade, Alexis explains to PEOPLE.

“To be in a place like Dallas, which has one of the worst pollution rates in the U.S., is kind of a no-brainer,” she says (Dallas is the 17th-most polluted city in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association).

Revisiting his old stomping ground, though, was a surprise (“I didn’t know that was going to happen! They pulled that off for me,” Pence says of planting at J.B. Little).

Hunter Pence (second from right)
| Credit: Texas Trees Foundation

Fans can donate toward the planting of the trees for the chance to do so alongside the athlete in January, and Pence will match all donations up to $15,000.

“If we all look at ourselves to make a difference, it’s going to make the biggest impact instead of being like, ‘Oh yeah, he needs to make a difference, oh yeah, the political leaders need to make the difference,’ ” Pence tells PEOPLE. “It’s our time to step up.”

The two-time World Series champion has even gotten his Rangers teammates on board too, like Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus, plus manager Chris Woodward, all of whom Alexis says have donated to the cause.

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“The [Rangers Chairman and COO Neil Leibman] gave me his card and was like, ‘Do you need any more help?’ ” Pence recalls. “So we definitely have a lot of support and backing from the Rangers, which is a huge bonus, and the [MLB] Players Association. So hopefully we can raise awareness and bring some attention and make it not just Rangers, but let’s get all MLB on board.”

As for baseball, the Rangers fell short of the postseason this year, but Pence says he’s still following along in his downtime — and rooting for any team but his former club, the Houston Astros, to win thanks to a friendly bet he has going with Alexis.

“She’s guaranteeing that the Astros are definitely winning,” he explains. “I don’t know, in baseball, anyone can beat anyone … I’m rooting for good drama, and we’re getting that so far.”

As of now, the Pence household bet is still alive, as the Astros lead the New York Yankees three games to one in the American League Championship Series. The winner of that series will then take on the Washington Nationals in the World Series, airing next week on Fox.