Kids from hospital visit Yanks' extended camp

Kids from hospital visit Yanks' extended camp

Kids from hospital visit Yanks' extended camp
TAMPA, Fla. -- A handful of kids from the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa, Fla., had a day they'll never forget.

The kids made their way to the Yankees' extended spring training home, where they visited players on Friday for the conclusion of HOPE Week.

The day began with the children playing a game of kickball against some of the players on hand. The kids dominated the professional ballplayers, who had trouble catching and fielding the ball. When the kids did get on base, they used their great speed to score more than enough runs.

"They're great kids," pitcher Alex Smith said. "That was a real good experience for me. ... I love that stuff. It's awesome for me. It's awesome for the kids."

Numerous players, including Major Leaguers Joba Chamberlain, Eduardo Nunez and Michael Pineda, all of whom are rehabbing injuries, took time to meet and greet the kids.

Slade Heathcott, New York's top Draft pick from 2009, played ball and hung out with the kids after signing a few baseball cards for Nicholas -- a Yankees fan through and through.

"It's cool he's following everybody like that," Heathcott said of Nicholas' knowledge of the organization. "It was a privilege to be able to sign those cards for him."

The day concluded with a tour of the facilities and inspirational words from intervention coordinator Ron Dock, who expressed his great appreciation to the kids for coming by.

In 1990, St. Joseph's Hospital opened a specialized unit for children. Since then, it has become nationally recognized as one of the top hospitals for children in the country.

The presence of the Yankees is also felt within the walls of the facilities. The Steinbrenner family has supported the hospital for more than 35 years and given more than $1 million in support.

For all the work done by the family, their legacy is reflected in the name of the Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center for Children that operates 24 hours a day. Each year, more than 50,000 kids pass through the unit, which saves countless lives.

This year marked the first that the Yankees expanded their HOPE Week initiative to each of the club's Minor League affiliates. Throughout the week, the team visited and mentored underprivileged youths to help give back to the community. Some players, like Smith, were more than happy to take the time out for the children.

"Seeing how happy they were, I love that stuff," Smith said. "It reminds me of how I was when I was kid."

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