© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
PITTSBURGH -- If you're a kid and you love baseball, what could be better than a week of hanging out with the likes of Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz and Tom Glavine? That's exactly what four very special boys from around the country will get to do this week as their All-Star Wishes come true.
Thanks to Major League Baseball and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Jimmy McKeon, 7 (of Landenberg, Pa.), Steven Grove, 9 (of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), Alec Hillegass, 15 (of Berlin, Pa.), and Justin Jones, 18 (of St. Charles, Mo.), will receive the red-carpet treatment during All-Star Week festivities.
Each year during All-Star Week, MLB gives Make-A-Wish children unforgettable experiences -- escorting them from one baseball adventure to another. They have a chance to meet All-Stars and celebrities, get behind-the-scene tours and up-close views of the many events like the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby and All-Star Game, and experience the festivities as only VIPs can.
The four children and their families arrived in town on Saturday and were whisked off to a welcome reception at the Shadyside Courtyard Marriott, where they were greeted by five Futures Game players.
Futures players Travis Buck of Midland (OAK), George Kattaras of Mobile (SD), Howie Kendrick of Salt Lake (LAA), Davis Romero of Syracuse (TOR) and Joey Votto of Chattanooga (CIN) arrived at the reception suited up in their game jerseys and ready to welcome the children to All-Star Week.
When McKeon saw the players, the only thing he could manage to say, with his mouth hanging open, was, "Holy cow!" The adventures will only continue from there.
McKeon thought it was "cool" to meet the Futures players, and he is especially looking forward to watching David Ortiz later in the week as he swings for the fences in the Home Run Derby.
As a Yankees fan, McKeon quickly explained his choice of a Red Sox player: "He's the only person I know in the Home Run Derby."
McKeon has been battling a brain tumor, and his mother, Nancy, said it took the family a long time to decide when they would be ready to do a Make-A-Wish trip.
"It's just nice to be at this point in our journey that we can look forward to and be excited about this [trip to All-Star Week]," she said.
At the reception, the kids received personalized All-Star jerseys and Louisville Slugger bats, bags and baskets full of baseball goodies, and XM Satellite radios/MP3 players complete with free lifetime subscriptions.
The Futures players were happy to spend time with the Make-A-Wish children. Buck said he it was an offer he wouldn't pass up.
"Even just being asked to be a part of it, it's very special, I would do it in a heartbeat over and over again," Buck said. "Just being here, talking to them -- making them forget about something that's probably been on their minds for a long time -- we're here just to make sure they're having fun and enjoying their time here."
The players realized the impact that their visit with the children could have, and Kendrick said he was glad to be a part of their All-Star experience.
"It's always great to give back to your community and to make an impression on little kids that look up to you -- and maybe one day are going to be watching you on TV," said Kendrick. "You may change their life forever, you never know, just by meeting you one time, it may make a big difference."
After the reception, the children and their families headed over to PNC Park for a tour of the ballpark. Their first stop was the players' clubhouse, where they visited with Pirates CEO & Managing General Partner Kevin McClatchy.
The kids also toured the batting cages, dugout, pressbox, club level, playing field and everything in between. They even got to sit in the dugout and then pose for photos on the field with their families.
Jones was quite impressed with the view of the field from the players' perspective. He is looking forward to coming back on Sunday for the Futures Game, the Celebrity Softball Game and the rest of the events throughout the week.
"It was probably six months ago when I asked for [the All-Star wish], they said they thought they could do it and they set it all up," Jones said. "I'm excited. I can't wait for everything to get started."
Jones will be a pre-med student in the fall at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and will be on the JV baseball team there. Largely due to his experience with Hodgkin's Disease, which is now in remission, he plans to go into pediatrics or pediatric oncology when he finishes school.
And then perhaps one day, it will be his turn to make other children's wishes come true.