Pedraja, 12, was one of many people who joined MLB umpires on Wednesday in the inaugural BLUE for Kids World Series of Bowling at the AMF University Lanes in Tampa, Fla.
"A few umpires came over to St. Joseph's Hospital where I was and they brought Build-a-Bears for me, which was a really nice thing," said Pedraja, who was in the hospital to undergo treatments for leukemia. "It was a really nice thing for them to show their commitment and for them to get involved. This event is pretty cool. It's an honor to be here and it's a really special thing what the umpires are doing for kids."
Pedraja was inspired by the MLB Umpires participation in charitable work following his stay in the hospital and created a website called www.drivingfordonors.com to raise awareness and money for those needing bone marrow transplants. Begun in 2007, Pedraga's family worked with The National Marrow Donor Program, The Marrow Foundation, law enforcement departments, and local donor centers, along with businesses and the media to host successful donor drives across the country. Pedraja's drive added over 6,500 donors last year and raised over $100,000 for tissue typing fees and drive expenses.
The efforts of Pedraja are an extension of how BLUE For Kids charity group have influenced people in a myriad of ways since the group's inception in 2006. Founded by MLB Umpire Marvin Hudson, who directs the organization along with fellow MLB Umpires Mike DiMuro, Mark Wegner and Fieldin "Cubby" Culbreth, BLUE for Kids provides professional sporting event tickets for underprivileged children and hosts hospital-based events for children coping with injury or illness.
"For a long time now, we saw all these great organizations that MLB is a part of and the umpires wanted to get in there and do their share," said Culbreth, who was among 35 umpires at the event and was the one responsible for creating the bowling tournament. "Anytime we can help anybody, it's a good thing. Especially we've taken on the challenge to help kids in the hospitals and if we can put a smile on their face for even a little while, it's a really good thing. People have this misconception that umpires just rise out of the ground for the games and aren't real people but we care just as much as anybody else and we're really proud to be a part of this type of event."
Celebrities from sports and media joined with caring corporate team sponsors for a bowling competition to benefit at-risk youth and children coping with serious illness. Teams were paired with a celebrity to round out the five-person team. Former MLB players such as Padres pitcher Brian Tolberg, Angels pitcher Dick Drago, and Senators and A's pitcher Dick Bosman joined other professional athletes like professional hockey player Dave Andreychuk and NFL player Earnest Graham in participating in the event.
"It's special to be able to help and give your time for a group like this," said Graham, who was a versatile athlete at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, Fla. and lettered in football, baseball and basketball from 1994-98. "Being able to help a group in another sport like this just shows the commitment people in professional sports make to help one another. And to be able to do this for kid is always special."
The event drew 125 bowlers that included groups representing every professional sports team in the Tampa Bay area as well as companies like Wal-Mart and Bristol-Myers Squibb. During the event, people had a chance to bid on signed memorabilia in a silent auction. In addition, people had an opportunity to win MLB items in a raffle held throughout the night. Funds raised at the tournament will help provide 1,000 Major League experiences for at-risk youth and children around the country.
All in all, for an inaugural event, Hudson, who founded BLUE for Kids, was excited about helping make it an annual one.
"Everything started three years ago when I left tickets for a group for Big Brothers of America and then we started talking later on about it and decided to make it a bigger thing," Hudson said. "Now, here we are, three years later and we're able to help out in several ways including staging events like this. It's very nice to do stuff like this where we can put smiles on kids' faces and make a difference in people's lives."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.