Major League Baseball threw its annual Winter Wishes party for 35 kids from the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, Castle Hill Unit, in the Bronx. This year the party was moved to MLB Network, where the kids got to chat with analysts and former pitchers Joe Magrane and Dan Plesac, plus host Paul Severino, while dining in the Say Hey Cafe upstairs.
MLB employees who volunteered for Winter Wishes each received a holiday wish-list letter from a youth at the club, and presents were piled up when the kids arrived Friday -- sometimes for siblings. There was also a performance by magician Randy Masters and a visit by Mr. Met.
"It's always a great day to have kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs," said Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs. "But this was a unique venue for them to come to MLB Network. The big thing is the gifts that these kids get.
"They are so appreciative. They're having so much fun. We just love doing it. No kid leaves empty-handed. They get the gift they asked for from Santa, plus they get extra baseball goodies that really make it a great holiday season."
This is the annual culmination of a year-long series of events matching MLB and its official charity, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. It came one week after MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred surprised a family from the same Boys & Girls Club with gifts at his office, as part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's new 12 Days of Giving campaign.
"We are in the first year of a five-year renewed partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs," Brasuell said. "It will have us continue to do stuff like this -- kids' days, Winter Wishes, but also doing teen centers at All-Star Games and beyond, activations at the World Series -- so it's going to be a great partnership. The Commissioner has said it is our most important partnership. Anything we can do with kids to have them become fans of our great game, and play our great game, the Boys & Girls Clubs gives us access to those kids."
Tanya Tyler, supervisor of the Castle Hill club, watched the kids swatting Wiffle balls all over Studio 42. Many of them were seeing what the fuss is all about over this sport called baseball. After that, they each came up to receive their present, posed with the World Series trophy and two elves, and all presents were sent back with them to be opened later.
"This means a lot. It's a dream for them," Tyler said. "As you can see, a lot of them don't know baseball, so by practicing now, they're getting the hang of it, and as they keep going on with it, it's a great experience for them. This is not something they do every day so they appreciate it a lot.
"It gives them a bigger understanding that there are people out there who are willing to help, who want to see a smile on their faces. Maybe this gives them the idea that when they are older, maybe they want to do it, join this team and give back to a community."
That's what she did. Tyler grew up at a Boys & Girls Club, and now she guides children through life-forming events such as this one.
"I experienced so much when I was younger, this is why I do it now," she said. "I try to be a role model for the youth now.
"It puts a big smile on my face. Even when they saw the coach bus, they were like, 'Wow, the bus is so big!' Just the little things like that, you can really tell the kids appreciate it."