Olivers help Rangers brighten families' holidays

Olivers help Rangers brighten families' holidays

ARLINGTON -- Darren Oliver eagerly awaited the same Christmas present year after year growing up in Sacramento, either for him or his brother, Tony.

"When I grew up, we were always fortunate having presents under the tree," Oliver said. "We weren't rich or poor; I just remember always having a Nerf football in my stocking. It was either mine or my brother's. That was our excitement. We got it, went outside and played catch …throwing that ball as far as we could. We still rap about it."

Maybe that's why Oliver developed the arm strength to become a Major League pitcher who enjoyed a 20-year career.

It also helps explains why Oliver and his wife, Melissa, hold their Christmas party at Globe Life Park in partnership with Arlington Urban Ministries. The annual event took place last week as parents and children in the Securing Arlington Families on the Edge program filled the Kids Zone at Globe Life Park for dinner, games and a chance to meet Santa Claus.

"My gosh, this is such a blessing for these families," said Jennifer Weber, executive director of Arlington Urban Ministries. "This is an opportunity for them to have dinner, play in the Kids Zone and have that experience. These are families who have fallen into financial hardship or crisis. We are just trying to help them stay in their homes, keep the utilities on and their child attending the same school.

"We are so appreciative of Darren doing this."

Darren and Melissa also passed out $200 gift certificates for the parents and $50 gift certificates to each child.

"These are people trying to better themselves," Oliver said. "Some of them fell on hard times, which can happen to anybody. It's not really the kids' fault. I would hate to wake up on Christmas Day, being a father and all, and [see that] there are no presents under the tree."

Oliver said he started taking part in such charity work while pitching for the Angels from 2007-09. He continued after signing with the Rangers in 2010. It was Taunee Paur Taylor, the Rangers' vice president for player and alumni relations, who connected the Olivers with Arlington Youth Ministries, and the former lefty is still active with the organization in his retirement.

"These people do great work," said Oliver, now a Rangers special assistant. "They are really good. They work hard and go the extra mile. As long as we have been doing it, when we give out the gift cards, the kids are excited, but the parents, they cry. They give you a hug. They are like, 'We didn't know what we were going to do. Now, we can go out and get some gifts for the kids.'

"It feels good. You can't help everybody, but I figured if you can help a little bit at a time, who knows? It's just good for them to come in and get a good meal."

Some of the memories will stay with Oliver for a long time.

"One year, I saw a girl stuffing rolls in her pocket because she didn't know where her next meal was coming," Oliver said.

It's because of images like that Oliver is eager to lend a hand to those in need.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.