D-backs outfielder gives back while recovering from elbow surgery
By Jim Walsh
Special to MLB.com |
It was a series of simple acts in a well-equipped recreation room at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
A game of foosball with a sick child who sheepishly admitted he likes soccer.
A game of air hockey with a beaming child who has big brown eyes and a bad stomach.
And finally, a hug for a small child who has cerebral palsy, an act that delighted the boy, his mother and his grandmother as they sat in a hallway.
But each of these acts by D-backs center fielder A.J. Pollock, still wearing a cast himself on his injured right elbow, seemed to make as big an impression on these children as a game-winning grand slam.
"You can impact them by doing something simple, just showing up," Pollock said, wearing one of the D-backs' new home jerseys, his favorite with the teal-colored trim. "It's a no-brainer for me to show up.
"It's very inspirational. I have an injured arm, and these kids are dealing with something significantly more serious than what I am going through."
Pollock suffered a fractured right elbow in a Cactus League game at Chase Field on April 1. Losing an offensive catalyst and a premier defender seemed to impede the team, but the D-backs appeared to right themselves during a road trip that culminated Thursday in a four-game sweep of the Giants.
Pollock said the D-backs organization has a strong commitment to community outreach, especially to children. He is far from the first D-backs player to visit children at the hospital. Last year, Patrick Corbin, Chris Owings, Jake Lamb and Andrew Chafin made visits. The club has more visits planned for later this year.
"We are really good at giving back. It's a big priority of mine," Pollock said. "I think it's part of the job description."
D-backs president and chief executive officer Derrick Hall said Pollock revealed his giving character after his injury.
"We have a longstanding relationship with Phoenix Children's Hospital and are very proud so many of our players have taken the time to get to know some of the patients at this incredible facility," Hall said in a statement.
"When A.J. was injured, one of the first things he did was come to the team and say that he wanted to use his downtime to give back to the community. That tells you all you need to know about his character and who he is as a person."
Some of the children Pollock visited were too young to realize that he is a Major League baseball player, while others knew who he was. He handed out bobblehead dolls of himself that will be distributed to fans attending Saturday's game against the Pirates.
Other hints about Pollock's identity abounded. Pollock's National League Gold Glove Award from his breakout 2015 season was on display. Baxter, the team mascot, hugged children or just about anyone in sight.
Joziah Nava, a 2-year-old who weighed only 1 pound when he was born severely premature, had no idea who the man wearing the baseball jersey and the cast was, but the child beamed with joy when Pollock stopped in a hallway to give him a hug while walking with his entourage to make some hospital room visits.
"He's so happy. When he's happy, we're happy," said Karla Bautista, the boy's mother. She said Joziah is still undergoing many types of therapy and has survived several surgeries stemming from being born at 26 weeks, rather than 40 weeks.
"I feel like he really enjoys attention," Karla said.
Marie Bautista, Joziah's grandmother, said there are a lot of D-backs fans in the family, including two boys who play baseball.
In one small comical mishap, Pollock handed a boy one of his bobbleheads. The boy dropped it and one of the arms fell off. As a group of reporters and others laughed, Pollock joked, "I don't think it's that funny."
Matthew Stevens, a 10-year-old who is recovering from severe complications of a ruptured appendix, said he enjoyed his foosball game with Pollock.
"It's just fun. It feels like it only happens once in your life. It makes me very happy," said Matthew.
Melinda Stevens, the boy's mother, said she appreciated Pollock's visit because it gives her son and others encouragement that they are going to get better.
Mohammed Almubareki played a game of air hockey with Pollock.
"It makes my heart pump fast," Mohammed said. "I learned that he likes us, and he wants to root for us. He wants us to have fun."
Jim Walsh is a contributor for MLB.com based in Phoenix. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.