"It was the best part of my week by some considerable portion. You see the faces of these kids who have an opportunity to get some gifts from baseball and to come here and visit Major League Baseball, it's really a special day for us."
Each day during the 12 Days of Giving, celebrities have showered holiday love on families in need around the country. Sabathia, ballet star Misty Copeland, boxing great Evander Holyfield, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child, WWE's Big Show, actor/musician Nick Cannon, Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, NBA Hall of Famer Dominque Wilkins and Hollywood star Denzel Washington are among those participating.
Boys & Girls Clubs has been an official charity of Major League Baseball for the last 20 years, so it was only natural that the Commissioner was thrilled to join in. The Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx designated a family to participate, and so the Commissioner's Office was ready.
Hall of Famer Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer, also entered the gifting room and surprised the quintet. They know what he had meant to the Bronx, managing so many great Yankees teams. He took off his 1996 World Series championship ring -- the one he always wears -- and let the children try it on. The smallest boy put it over two fingers.
"It's really fun to do this. It's fun to see smiles on your faces," Torre told them. "Good stuff. I know you'd rather be in school than here, right? So much more fun."
Arlene Gonzalez of the Bronx is a single mother of three; she has been volunteering in the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club's senior citizen facilities for the last few years, in order to be a candidate for a job when vacancy becomes available. Her family is now receiving public assistance, which relieves some of the family's economic hardship.
"I am very excited, very thankful for everything you guys have done for us to date," Gonzalez said. "I was very surprised, did not expect any of this. But it means a lot to me, especially to see the smiles on their faces. I am beyond proud and happy."
As she opened a present containing a new tablet PC, she said, "My first computer." With that, some BGCA and MLB staffers wiped away tears.
"They get to use the computer for school, which was one of the major things we were having troubles with," she explained.
Gonzalez was there with her daughter and three sons. Her oldest, 14-year-old Diadys Cepeda, is an active member of the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. She has been a member since the age of 8 along with her two siblings Joshua King (12) and Ladaine Gonzalez (10).
Diadys has participated in a number of activities, exhibits strong leadership skills that helped make this appearance possible, and she was the captain of her baseball team among other programs. That probably explains why she said her favorite gift was a unique piece of memorabilia: a framed and autographed action photo of Derek Jeter.
"Every time I played, I was the only girl," she said. "So it was kind of weird being the captain, and kind of hard as well, but it was about creating a relationship with everybody on the team and making sure that everybody was working as a team. ... Because without working as a team, you can't win the game.
"When I saw that frame, it was so exciting, and especially because it has a signature and it just looks really nice. Derek Jeter was one of my favorite players. He was kind of like a role model to me, and he just inspired me to not being afraid of what others may say, to just keep going and do what I do."
The entire family loves baseball, but they have been to only one game, when the Kips Bay Club provided them with tickets. Diadys had said after that game, "Boy, we love baseball and we wish we could go more often to see a baseball game." So Commissioner Manfred made that possible, surprising them with five tickets that they will trade in anytime in 2017 for entry to a Yankees home game.
As for the autographed baseballs he gave each of them?
"We have one last thing," he said as he handed an official MLB Rawlings baseball to each of them. "There's nothing better than a signed ball for kids, so here you go. All you get is my signature. I already signed them."
The visitors were all smiles, expressing thanks all around. To the Commissioner and company, their joy was the best gift of all.