From security guard to Santa: MLB spreads holiday cheer

NEW YORK -- Yes, baseball fans, there is a Santa.

He stays low-profile most of the year. He was a kid himself once, born and raised in Harlem and going each year at this time to a local movie theater, where the Police Athletic League would throw a Christmas party for area kids who would receive a present after watching a movie.

On Friday night in Greenwich Village, LeRoy Hendricks, a longtime fixture on the serious side of Major League Baseball Security, renewed what has become a beloved and jolly holiday tradition of his own in later life. He handed out presents to 50 kids as the Santa Claus during MLB's Winter Wishes 2014 event for the Castle Hill Club House of the local Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club.

"When I was first was asked to do it, I didn't understand what it was about," Hendricks said as he donned the gear. "So I decided, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' For the first couple of years, I did it, it was nice.

"But about six or seven years ago, I was giving out gifts to one of the kids, and while he was sitting on my lap, he said, 'Can I ask you a question?' I said, 'Yes, you can, what's the matter?' He said, 'Nothing's the matter, it's just that I've never seen a black Santa Claus before.'

"He was a little black kid. So I said that from now on, I'm going to do this, just to help their vision, so to speak -- that it doesn't have to be white, black, Spanish or whatever. It's Santa Claus."

Already a large man to start, Hendricks pulled a pair of black boots over his own genuine snakeskin boots that he bought in Houston. An MLB colleague or two helped as he then had four throw pillows taped around his midsection. Finally he stepped into the trademark crimson Santa Claus outfit, belt pulled tight, fitted with a shaggy white beard and locks plus the stocking cap.

Jinglebells chimed to alert the kids, and you needed MLB Security for the MLB Security guy.

Everyone wanted to see him. He was a rock star. The kids screamed. Their wish came true.

"Oh, they would be shocked," said Hendricks, who is not trying to keep this a secret if you ask him. There are, after all, Santas all over this town right now. "And that's the other side of me. It's not always about security, business and whatnot. This is the fun part of being at MLB, being able to give these kids something to remember for Christmas. A lot of these kids, it will probably be their highlight of Christmas this year."

Just ask Jimmie Ragin. He is supervisor at the Castle Hill Club House, and he was one of the chaperones on this night. "The kids are having the time of their life. That's the best thing," Ragin said. "We're always glad to see kids having so much fun. Getting the presents that they asked for -- you hardly see that."

This annual event begins with MLB inviting kids from an area Boys & Girls Club to each write a letter to Santa, with their own wish lists. MLB employees then are able to volunteer to fulfill those wishes. Some of them are given to kids at this event, and many more go to the clubhouse for other wishes.

The kids came on a big bus, posed for pictures with the World Series Trophy, had a big dinner, were treated to a magic act by Amazing Max, got to dance with Mr. Met, and then they each received not only presents, but also a bunch of MLB gear.

There was also a safety talk from two members of the New York Police Department's Community Affairs Bureau -- Sgt. Michelle Martindale and officer Louis Permenegildo. They told kids how to stay safe, keep their parents safe, keep their homes safe.

"It's our opportunity to work with children, to let them know not to be afraid of police officers when they see us on the street, and to learn about safety," Sgt. Martindale said. "We like to spread the word, we brought out crime-prevention tips for the parents, and if they have any questions we're here to help them. This is a great event."

This caps a big year in the 20-year partnership between MLB and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America -- Major League Baseball's official charity.

"It's always a great year, as they serve over 4 million kids at 4,100 clubhouses across the country and on military bases around the world," said Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs. "It's always great to be able to bring one of the New York City clubhouses . . . to one of our facilities. This was a very special year as Commissioner [Bud] Selig was honored by Boys & Girls Clubs for his work over the years, at the Northeast Gala. So this caps a really great year with the Boys & Girls Clubs."

As to the revelation that Santa is in fact a trusted colleague at MLB jewel events, Brasuell said with a smile: "He's been a great Santa for years. I didn't know that. I thought it was really Santa from the North Pole, so now I'm devastated. I don't know now."

Hendricks knows there are other Santas out there, spreading joy and cheer.

As he sees it, there are three things you really need most for the part, besides the outfit:

"A lot of patience, a lot of understanding, and be happy."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.