DETROIT -- As Anibal Sanchez and his wife, Ana, introduced Sanchez's Little Smiles, a new charity program they founded with the Tigers, the right-hander grew emotional while recounting a personal story.
In 2007, Anibal's baby son passed away of dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted illness, and at Wednesday afternoon's news conference, the pitcher remembered feeling lonely during the ordeal. Sanchez's Little Smiles hopes to provide some relief to others facing similar hardships, hosting families with children suffering from health issues or other challenges for a night at Comerica Park.
"I understood what happened, and I [understand] the situation for everybody," Sanchez said. "That's why I want to help and keep in touch with those kinds of people -- just give the help, if not my time, too."
The program launched Wednesday with families from the Children's Hospital of Michigan, who met with Sanchez before being invited outdoors for batting practice. The evening continued upstairs in the Sanchez family's suite.
According to Ana, part of the inspiration for the program came when she was expecting their first daughter and learned the baby might have cleft lip and cleft palate. While Anabella was ultimately born healthy, Ana said the fear of a complication was an eye-opening experience.
"We committed, once we had Anabella, that we needed to support and in some sort of way create awareness to kids that have some sort of need," Ana said. "Either health or basic needs that need to be met, and to support their parents."
Sanchez's Little Smiles plans to host families several times throughout the season.
"With my wife, I've had the opportunity to be more involved with children and try to leave my grain of sand so that they can have a smile," Anibal said in Spanish.
Alejandro Zúñiga is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.