Hirsh visits bustling Children's Hospital

Hirsh visits Children's Hospital

DENVER -- Hours before the first World Series to be played in Colorado, Rockies rookie Jason Hirsh took a break from the whirlwind of activities to visit The Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's Hospital.

The St. Joseph's branch is the newest network of care site for The Children's Hospital, and the branch opened on Sept. 16, a day into the Rockies' 21-1 run that led to the World Series.

The Rockies, Major League Baseball and the charitable foundation Starlight Starbright donated a "Fun Center" to the hospital, a high-tech, portable game system that enables patients to occupy and entertain themselves while waiting to receive hospital services.

Hirsh went 5-7 for the Rockies, but has been on the disabled list since breaking his leg in a game Aug. 7. Not realizing he'd broken it on a line drive comebacker that caught him in the shin, Hirsh went on to pitch six innings that day, earning a key win for his club.

Coaxing young patient-ambassador Jake Cohen from the crowd of kids gathered for the event, Hirsh helped him cut a ceremonial ribbon, inaugurating the Fun Center as Hirsh took on another patient in a cartoon car race game.

"Some of these kids probably won't be able to come out to the ballpark in any facet," Hirsh said after visiting with patients, signing autographs and sharing his World Series day with kids from the community. "It's very special. To give them that little hope and glimmer and see the smile means a lot.

"Jake said he's a six-year cancer survivor. That's very admirable. I know I pitched six innings with a broken leg, but that's nothing compared to what these kids are going through. It's a special day, a special moment."

Jake was as happy as any of the kids to share the special day with the Rockies, even playing a game of "shadow ball," throwing an imaginary ball back and forth with Starry, the mascot from Starlight Starbright.

"Jake's been a miracle," said his father, Dave Cohen. "He got diagnosed with cancer when he was 1 year old, so he's almost a six-year survivor. Three years ago he had a major stroke, and they said he'd never walk or talk again. He came back from that. And then he just had detached retina surgery, he could only see out of his left eye, and they repaired that on October 1. So he's one tough kid."

The Rockies have a long relationship with Children's Hospital, in large part due to manager Clint Hurdle, whose daughter, Madison, was born with a genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome, receiving much of her care from the Children's Hospital. Jake was an in-patient one December when Hurdle played Santa Claus for the kids.

Saturday's event was made even more special by the presence of the family of the late Hall of Famer and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, including his wife, Vera, and his two sons, Roberto Jr. and Luis. The Clementes were in town to present Major League Baseball's annual Roberto Clemente Award to the Major League player who best represents the game, on and off the field. They will present the award at Coors Field before Game 3 on Saturday night, and they were honored to participate and share the day at the hospital.

"This is something that my father did for a long time during his career in Major League Baseball," Roberto Jr. said. "It's a proud moment for us. Dad visited a lot of hospitals for a lot of years throughout his career. It's very important to us to keep that legacy alive."

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The Clementes are also active with children back in Puerto Rico, where Vera and Luis still live.

"I'm really happy, because I love children," Vera Clemente said. "I'm involved with children all year. In Sports City, we work with children of all ages in sports recreation. I love them. I am very happy to be here and to visit the hospital and to be at the game to present the Roberto Clemente Award."

After greeting the patient-ambassadors, Hirsh and Rockies mascot Dinger went on to visit three children who required overnight hospitalization, brothers Devon Hawkins, 2, and Ryan Anderson, 3, as well as 5-year-old Grant Hoskins, who enjoyed meeting the Rockies pitcher, but admitted it was more fun to see Dinger.

"Having the Fun Center allows the children to have a chance to use play for distraction," said Cindy McConnell, Director of the Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's Hospital. "If you're having a procedure done, it's great to be able to be doing something while everything is being set up for that procedure.

"The greatest thing about having the Fun Center here is it allows kids to be kids, and that's what we're all about," McConnell said.

Hirsh had just as much fun visiting the kids as they had hosting him, and despite towering over them at 6 feet 8 inches, he had no trouble seeing eye-to-eye with the children, playing games, laughing and sharing the World Series atmosphere that has made the whole city feel like kids in the candy shop.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.