HOPE Week recipients treated to VIP tour

HOPE Week recipients treated to VIP tour

HOPE Week recipients treated to VIP tour
NEW YORK -- The students of Ss. Joachim & Anne School in Queens, New York, thought they were going to the library.

After all, it's not unusual for the group of 15 Haitian refugees to spend a summer afternoon hitting the books. The children, aged 7 through 13, have been in summer school since the beginning of the month, working to improve their English in the country they've adopted as their home since the catastrophic earthquake that struck their homeland in January 2010

But there was to be no studying on this particularly warm and sunny Wednesday afternoon in New York City. The bus the students boarded was headed not for the library, but for Yankee Stadium, where the children were treated to a day of VIP events and celebrations as part of the Yankees' Help Others Persevere & Excel (HOPE) Week.

"I'm always watching the New York Yankees on TV, but I never knew I was going to go to Yankee Stadium," said Charles Boute, who threw his ceremonial first pitch for a strike before the Yankees' 9-2 loss to the Mariners.

During batting practice, the students were introduced to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, as well as club icons Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Then, ace pitcher CC Sabathia and Yankees director of media Jason Zillo revealed to the children what else they had in store for them after the game.

The students were once again surprised to find out they would be taking a Gray Line, double-decker sightseeing bus tour around Manhattan, with a trip to the top of the Empire State Building, where the children were given the honor of lighting the tallest building on the eastern seaboard. In addition, the bus made another stop at historic St. Patrick's Cathedral, where the students said a candlelit prayer and had dessert with Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The children were accompanied on the bus tour by family members and teachers, as well as Sabathia, Posada, Freddy Garcia and coaches Mike Harkey and Tony Pena.

"I'd never been on a bus tour, and to be able to hang out with these kids means a lot," Sabathia said. "Getting back out in the community and giving back is what it's all about for us. So to be able to step away from baseball and hang out with some kids is pretty fun.

"They've been through a tough time, and it's just good to be able to get them away from it for a day and be able to hang out."

As Manhattanites waved at the students and players, the team presented the school with a check for $10,000 and had one last surprise for the schoolchildren. Pizza was ordered for the bus, but the Yankees didn't get any old delivery boy. The man with the pizza boxes was none other than Jeter, who stayed with the tour the rest of the way.

HOPE Week has been held annually since 2009, with the purpose of performing acts of goodwill to provide encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture. This day of recognition came about when Maureen Cavanagh, a former photo editor at Sports Illustrated, visited the school to take pictures after reading about the refugee students in the New York Times.

She then contacted the Yankees' media relations department to let them know the school would be a good candidate for a HOPE Week day. Members of the department visited the school and conducted numerous interviews in the ensuing months.

But for the school's principal, Linda Freebes, the dream day was more than worth the wait, both for her and her students.

"It was a magnificent event, which the children and the teachers and I will treasure for always," Freebes said. "I certainly think that they won't be thinking of all the terrible things that have happened to them, because now they have a wonderful memory to enjoy that people love them. This is something they can think about rather than dwell on the past."

Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.