Umpires help lift spirits of sick children
BLUE for Kids program a hit with hospitals and families
NEW YORK -- Five-year-old Joshua lay quietly as a man in a blue polo shirt entered his room Wednesday morning. He didn't cry or scream. He simply watched.
But Joshua practically jumped up from his hospital bed to grab the stuffed dog the man offered him. He grinned as he held the toy close under his arm and picked out an outfit for it to wear.
Joshua didn't have any idea the man dressing his new dog in doctors' scrubs and a cap was Major League Baseball umpire Jim Reynolds.
It didn't matter.
The five-year-old's eyes opened wide, and a smile spread across Joshua's face when a nurse told him he could bring "Doggy Doctor" with him to an ultrasound.
For Reynolds and more than 25 other MLB umpires who participate in the BLUE for Kids program, that sort of reaction sticks. And it has nothing to do with baseball.
"When you walk into the room you can see their faces light up, and to me that's just so cool," Reynolds said. "Being a Major League umpire, that's really kind of secondary when you come in here."
Reynolds was joined by fellow umpires Fieldin Culbreth and Gary Cederstrom to deliver Build-A-Bear Workshop stuffed animals to patients at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.
The idea was to put a smile on a child's face, but the kids weren't the only ones smiling. Receptionists, nurses and doctors alike looked up as the cart filled with stuffed animals and their clothes rolled past.
And there were plenty of laughs as the umpires dressed numerous cats, dogs and teddy bears. It's not every day you see a grown man try to tie a coconut bra and hula skirt around a fuzzy bear's waist.
Being New York, the children also had their choice of a Yankees or Mets uniform for the animals.
The hospital visits are part of the BLUE for Kids organization's effort to give back. The program was started by umpire Marvin Hudson in 2002, and as it's increased, the participants have delivered gifts to children in hospitals across the country. A grant from pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb has helped the organization progress, and company employees participate in all of the hospital visits.
Reynolds, Culbreth and Cederstrom were in town for the Yankees-Padres series, and they made the trip to the hospital in between games. For the umpires, it's a chance to give, and also get away from the ballpark and step into a completely different atmosphere.
"There are times when we walk into the ballpark, and we're booed and all that," Reynolds said. "Then we walk in here and people are excited to see us, so it's a nice little change."
The kids had eyes only for the stuffed animals, but parents standing bedside made sure to thank each individual handing out the toys.
"They're so appreciative of the time we spend here," Reynolds said. "Because they know it's something that will brighten their kid's day, even if it's just for five minutes."
Reynolds and his fellow umpires spent nearly two hours at the hospital before returning to the ballpark. They had barely stepped in the door of one room when a toddler hopped up and down on her bed pointing to them. Wednesday night, they'll return to their job on the field, but the image of that young girl will stay in their minds much longer than any single play of a baseball game.
"She was kind of coming at us instead of us coming to her," Reynolds said, laughing. "They're so energetic and the smiles are so big that those are the kind of things that I remember."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.