Indians, MLB bring joy to pediatric patients

Starlight Fun Center designed to provide entertainment, healing power

Indians, MLB bring joy to pediatric patients

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Baerga once hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning, the first Major Leaguer ever to do so. Len Barker once threw a perfect game.

On Wednesday morning, the former Indians players gazed in wonderment and offered encouragement as children in wheelchairs clutched their video-game consoles eagerly and vied for points on a brand-new Starlight Fun Center mobile entertainment unit, which Major League Baseball and the Indians donated to Cleveland Clinic Children's to help with kids' rehab therapy.

"It's bigger than a home run, bigger than a base hit, bigger than any record you have," Baerga said. "When kids here who have a rough road are smiling, it makes you think about life, and doing the right things. ... We're bringing joy and happiness to those kids. I always say that we've been blessed, and getting the opportunity to be here is an honor."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 25 CLE 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 26 CHC 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 28 CLE 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 29 CLE 7, CHC 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 30 CHC 3, CLE 2 video
Gm 6 Nov. 1 CHC 9, CLE 3 video
Gm 7 Nov. 2 CHC 8 CLE, 7 (10) video

"It's all about seeing kids smile," Barker said. "Seeing the new game they got, and they're playing it and they're engaged. These kids have had it rough. There's a lot of people that complain -- 'Oh, pity me.' Tell them to come to a hospital and see how these kids are struggling. And then to see them smile, that's what it's all about."

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MLB and the Indians teamed up with the Starlight Children's Foundation to donate the Starlight Fun Center, one of at least 75 that MLB and clubs have given local institutions at World Series and All-Star Games in years past. The unit is equipped with the latest gaming system that rolls bedside in hospitals to provide entertainment and healing power of play to pediatric patients.

For children facing surgery, enduring long outpatient treatments or fighting loneliness after hospital visiting hours have ended, Starlight Fun Center units provide a comforting break and a fun distraction. Nurses, physicians, child life specialists and parents report back to Starlight that the Fun Center unit greatly improves the experience of hospitalization for the children.

Along with Baerga and Barker, attendees included MLB vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell, Indians executive director of community impact Rebecca Kodysh, Cleveland Clinic Children's executive vice chairman Dr. Michael McHugh, Matt Dolan from the Indians' ownership family, and Slider and the rest of the Indians' mascots.

"Our mission at the Cleveland Indians is to prepare youth for success and to focus on youth baseball and softball in the inner city," Kodysh said. "Our partnership with the Cleveland Clinic really gives us an opportunity to do some great work with children, so we're excited about that. I know our players and wives have really enjoyed being a part of that, too."

McHugh said Cleveland Clinic Children's is one of only about 25 such facilities in the U.S. that focuses exclusively on rehabilitation for kids.

These events are now common -- one is coming to Chicago in a couple of days -- and this was the first time that there was a therapy dog in the midst for kids to pet.

"Some of [the children] spend a lot of time here, and there's a lot of hours where there is not a whole lot to do," McHugh said. "Another thing these are used for, the therapists frequently use them for rewards for getting the necessary exercises and stretches done. Those things frequently hurt when the kids have tight muscles and things like that, so anything that will get them to do what they need to do is welcome for us."

Additionally at the event, members of the umpiring crew working this World Series offered Build-A-Bear Workshop stuffed animals to patients and families at the hospital via UMPS CARE Charities. Each child was able to choose from a variety of pre-stuffed animals as well as clothing outfits for their bear. Crew chief John Hirschbeck was there, along with World Series umps Tony Randazzo, Joe West and Marvin Hudson, plus family members. Jennifer Skolochenko-Platt, executive director of UMPS CARE Charities, was also among the dignitaries.

"This program is very special to Major League umpires," Hirschbeck said. "It's something we totally love doing. We have this program going on around the country, in different cities, and they'll call the crew ahead of time and ask them to get up and get over to the hospital to participate. It really is fantastic to go into these hospitals and put a smile on these kids' faces."

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.