He was wearing a white Mariners jersey Monday, surrounded by 29 other complete strangers, who are now kindred souls and powerful examples of shining light. These were the People All-Stars Among Us, gathered in a ballroom in advance of their coming-out party Tuesday night before Major League Baseball's 81st All-Star Game -- everyday heroes who, if you want to know the truth, are not out for this kind of publicity and attention.
It is so foreign to them, it is so absolutely beautiful to see.
"Everyone in here has a special story, and in my case my daughter passed away three years ago," said Hannah, from Puyallup, Wash. "Out of that grief, my wife and I decided to start Jamie's Heart Foundation to help other families get through having children with heart defects. It was a way for me to heal, a grieving process for me, and now we see the benefit of that with with other families we help.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience being here. Being a baseball fan and then being recognized, all 30 of us, for what we do in our communities, it's above and beyond whatever we would have expected. Whether they lost somebody or they've been through a traumatic experience or they just saw a need in their community, there are 30 of us who have an opportunity to maybe inspire somebody to do something special in their community. If even one of them does it, it's worth it."
One of the most uplifting feelings in the world is walking through the crowd of 30 People All-Stars Among Us, gathered together as new friends, each wearing the jersey of the Major League Baseball club they represent as you introduce yourself, listening to their stories and what it means to be here.
These are the people you voted for this season, the same everyday heroes who will be recognized on the field before Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Angel Stadium, and all you really need to do is listen to what they have to say. It is a little humbling and a whole lot of inspiring.
"This is an incredible experience," said Pete Grady of Brookfield, Conn. "When I think of this program I started 10 years ago raking leaves for some people, now I'm here in Anaheim, just enjoying the company of 29 other successful candidates. Being in this whole environment is just fantastic for me, personally."
That is how it feels. His Handy Dandy Handy Man Ministry is now an official non-profit with more than 1,000 volunteers helping 400 seniors in seven towns. Then you say thanks and meet Albert Lexie, standing beside him.
"So far so good," he says. "It was long travel for me, because I came by two planes. I came all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I live south of Pittsburgh in a town called Monessen. I'm one of the top people chosen for this reward that I'm going to get tomorrow. Really, I'm a shoeshine man. I shine shoes for Children's Hospital to raise money."
He has raised more than $150,000 shining those shoes since 1981. He has donated 100 percent of his tips to the hospital's Free Care Fund, which ensures that children receive medical care, regardless of their family's ability to pay.
For the second year in a row, 30 representatives from each club are getting the royal treatment. They will ride in the back of trucks, along with the All-Stars, on a parade route to Angel Stadium for the All-Star Game during the Red Carpet Show presented by Chevy, and then they will be introduced in front of a worldwide FOX live audience during pregame ceremonies. They were introduced for the first time by Commissioner Bud Selig in a Marriott ballroom, where the All-Star press conference was held Monday morning.
"Last year's All-Star Game in St. Louis was memorable for many reasons, but perhaps my favorite moment was the pregame ceremony where we honored the People All-Stars Among Us, 30 people who were recognized for their outstanding community service," Selig said, as the honorees sat in the first rows. "President Obama threw the first pitch and all of the living presidents paid tribute to the All-Stars Among Us. Although they have different political beliefs, these leaders all agreed that recognizing people for selfless acts of goodwill was an important message for this country.
"Hopefully this well-deserved recognition that our All-Stars Among Us will receive from this event will make a significant impact on all of these organizations and their efforts to help other human beings. I want to thank People magazine for their partnership in this effort, but most importantly, I want to thank all of the All-Stars Among Us for all that you've done. I'm really very proud on behalf of Major League Baseball to meet all of you and to celebrate your absolutely remarkable achievements. Your participation here means that we'll have 30 additional All-Stars on the field tomorrow night."
David Price, the Rays' 12-game winner, was one of the two starting pitchers at the head table during the press conference, and he said he sat there in awe of these 30 citizens who sat before him. It was definitely a mutual admiration.
"That's absolutely awesome," Price said. "Those people are doing the stuff we are trying to do off the field whenever we have our foundations and charities. They get to take that on full bore. I'm jealous of that. That's awesome. I wish I could do stuff they do every day. It's fun. You can tell they enjoy it, that they do it for the right reasons. They aren't getting a whole lot back from it -- that's huge. They don't get a lot of recognition from it, not like we do. Whenever we have a charity or a foundation, everybody tends to know about it pretty quick. They start theirs from scratch. It's pretty admirable, the stuff they do."
Paul Caine, president of Time Inc. Style and Entertainment Group, said of the campaign: "We anticipate significant results but never the kind of response we got this year. We had over 7,500 nominations to become these All-Stars, and we had over 1.7 million votes. That's really an incredible response, especially after the outreach that we had."
Selig cited examples of how the program made a difference for last year's winners. Take Christina Shively of Newport Beach, Calif., for example. Last year, she represented the Angels with her organization Locks of Love, which provides homemade caps for cancer patients. At the time she was nominated, she had 102 volunteers knitting 1,800 caps per month for 140 cancer treatment centers. After being recognized, Locks of Love has more than 500 volunteers knitting more than 3,000 caps per month for 253 treatment centers in all 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico and Ireland. It was indicative of the expanded successes many other winners experienced.
"With this kind of success, we decided to, again, recognize 30 outstanding people who are making extraordinary contributions to their community, and this year, we again have a group of people who deserve to be admired," Selig said. "Their stories are truly inspiring."
Representing the Royals is Marcia Merrick, who spends 60 hours per week preparing and distributing sack lunches for the hungry and homeless in Kansas City that includes not only food, but notes of encouragement.
Representing the Reds is Mindy Atwood, who helps clinically ill children and their families pay for utility bills, hospital charges and other expenses during emergencies.
Representing the Rangers is John Hoover, who repairs homes and refurbishes rooms of children with life threatening diseases.
"You feel a little guilty, and it's humbling because we have so many volunteers in Atlanta who work with our organization," said Braves representative Bruce Deel of Tyrone, Ga. He founded City of Refuge, a nonprofit that provides programs and services to individuals who are in need. In 13 years, it has grown to serve more than 10,000 people annually, with food, clothing, shelter, job training and placement, housing, healthcare and education.
"I have so many staff who are doing behind-the-scenes work that nobody sees. I just happen to be the face of our organization. So we're serving 10,000 folks a year, but that takes 2,500 volunteers and 30 employees. So to be picked out as the one face of that, and be given the royal treatment, so to speak, as a result of that, it's a little guilty feeling, because a lot of them are in the ditches and doing the hard work every day, while I'm out here enjoying the life.
"Our goal is just to get folks motivated."
An A-list of celebrities will help recognize the All-Stars Among Us this time, as the living U.S. presidents did last year.
"Since we are so close to Hollywood, we called on some celebrities to participate in our pregame ceremony this year," Selig said. "You'll be seeing Ben Affleck, Sheryl Crow, Harrison Ford, Salma Hayek, Matthew McConaughey, Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron paying tribute to the All Stars Among Us."
Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President of Business for MLB, said last year's program debut was so "over the top," it was organized again and the response was "three times as overwhelming."
"These are 30 people from the 30 Major League Baseball communities," Brosnan said. "All of these people had an idea, took the idea to execution, and the result is they are helping our communities, one person at a time.
"If we get one person watching the broadcast who says, 'You know what, these people inspire me. I've been thinking of doing X to help my community, I'm getting up early tomorrow and doing it,' it worked. Or the flip side is, if someone says, 'I like what that person is doing, I'm going to their website and volunteering, I'm going to write a check, I'm going to send some clothes, or I'm going to knit a hat.' It's really just intended to amplify the good works that these 30 folks are doing.
"We're America's game, and we think we're a part of the cultural fabric like no one else is. As a result, we take that responsibility very seriously. This is just an extension of our responsibility, to kind of be a good neighbor to all of America. And these people authenticate it for us."