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Umpires are 'Angels' for kids

Umpires are 'Angels' for kids

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. -- Lawrance Garcia wasn't sure if he should go with a karate outfit or an Angels uniform while dressing his Build-A-Bear, but he knew he would name it Spike.

He decided to opt for the Angels jersey -- his favorite team -- during his Build-A-Bear Workshop with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt as part of the BLUE for Kids program hosted at the Children's Hospital of Orange County on Tuesday.

"It was fun," said Lawrance, who is 13 years old. "The Angels are my favorite."

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Wendelstedt was joined by two other Major League Umpires -- Marvin Hudson and Brian Knight -- as all three helped to build the bears with the children in the hospital's third-floor playroom.

Seeing the umpires at the hospital meant a lot to Lawrance's mother, Margaret Garcia, who said the umpires are much different in person than the way they appear on television.

"It was so nice," said Garcia. "It's so neat because you get to see a different side to them. Usually they look so stern, saying, 'You're out.' But with the stuffed animals they are so friendly."

Wendelstedt, who helped dress Lawrance's bear, said he felt a real connection with the children, and it helped that he has two young daughters of his own.

"It helped that I knew most of the shows that Lawrance had seen that I was up with the lingo because of my daughters," said Wendelstedt, who made his first hospital event visit. "Some people just love kids, I'm one of those people. Lawrance is a good kid."

Tuesday marked the 24th hospital visit by MLB umpires since the program began in 2006. Hudson is the founder of BLUE for Kids, which also has several other programs to help children and at-risk youth, and has hosted eight of the 24 hospital visits.

More than 2,000 bears have been donated by the program and more than 30 umpires have joined the effort. The program is aided in part by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has its employees help out at every hospital visit.

"It's incredible," Wendelstedt said. "We should do this every week. The more sponsors we get, the more we are able to do this. I'm hoping for big things."

Hudson said the reason why the hospital visit program was created is easy to see.

"The smiles on their faces really make the day," Hudson said. "We're here but it's all about them, not us at any time. They're in here and we don't want them to think they're forgotten."

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

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