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Umpires give back to children in need

Umpires give back to kids in need

PHILADELPHIA -- When an umpire calls an impeccable game, he goes largely unnoticed.

But when an umpire participates in an event organized by BLUE for Kids, he is noticed by hospital staff, parents, volunteers and, most important, patients. Being noticed in this case is wonderful.

Major League Baseball umpires Bob Davidson, Andy Fletcher, Alfonso Marquez and Mike Reilly joined Minor League umpires Damien Beal, Brian Kennedy and Bobby Price for a visit with pediatric patients at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Wednesday. The event was organized by BLUE for Kids, a non-profit organization founded by MLB umpires, which organizes children's hospital visits and unique baseball experiences for children awaiting adoption.

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The umpires offered words of encouragement and distributed Build-A-Bear Workshop stuffed animals to the children coping with serious illness. Stuffed animals ranged from Phillie Phanatic dolls and puppies to teddy bears.

Davidson was the home-plate umpire in the Phillies' thrilling 5-4 win over the Braves on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

"These couple of hours here with these kids will fly by," said Davidson, who is in his 23rd season as an MLB umpire. "It means a lot to me to help out and give back to see the smiles on their faces. I wish we could do this event on every road trip because it feels so good to give back. These kids and their families are all going through a difficult time, and to provide some joy is a great experience. You're right in that people do notice us here. That's a good thing."

Kennedy was the home-plate umpire for Tuesday's Triple-A game at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa., featuring Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' top farm club, and Norfolk. Making the trip up the Northeast Extension to CHOP was a pleasure to assist the children.

"It's really special because it's a chance to share our experiences with the kids," said Kennedy, who is in his 10th season as a Minor League umpire. "You spend time with the kids and the families and do whatever you can to make them feel good. It's a great feeling to give your time because these kids are all going through a tough time."

Founded by MLB umpires in 2006, BLUE for Kids is meant to enrich the lives of at-risk youth and children coping with serious illness by providing memorable sports experiences, supporting pediatric medical care and raising the awareness of foster care children waiting to be adopted.

"It's great for the kids, but it's also great for the umpires because they enjoy it and get so much out of it," said Samuel Dearth, executive director of BLUE for Kids. "Not only do the umpires get to give back, but they get to experience firsthand how good it feels to give back to the community. The umpires have been great and have been so excited about the program. Bob Davidson asks me all the time about wanting to do more."

What really makes the event special is when a child shows gratitude. One little girl hugged all the umpires and thanked them before they left the hospital room.

For Marquez, who has been an MLB umpire for nearly nine years, the scene was touching.

"I could see the smile on her face and how special it was to her," Marquez said. "I have a couple of kids at home and I thank God they don't have to go through anything like what these kids have to go through. To give up our time to give back to this is special. It's a small thing for us to do and it makes them all happy. It makes me happy to give back with this program."

MLB umpires will host a total of 12 of these events in '08, and Davidson can't wait for the next one.

"I hope it's soon," Davidson said. "I love helping out kids. Is there a better feeling than giving back to kids? It's just great and so special. I'm ready for the next one to come around."

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

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