TAMPA -- Major League Baseball Umpires and the Tampa Bay Rays were a big hit on Tuesday morning at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital of Tampa as UMPS CARE Charities, a non-profit founded by MLB Umpires, provided a Build-A-Bear Workshop® experience for children coping with serious illness. Raymond, the Rays furry blue mascot, pitched in with hugs and dance moves that made everyone smile.
MLB Umpires Randy Marsh, Mike Winters, Alfonso Marquez, and Lance Barksdale loaded pre-stuffed animals and bear-sized outfits into four red wagons and spent the first half of the event hosting room-to-room visits for children with cancer and blood disorders. Each child chose a pre-stuffed teddy bear, puppy, or rabbit as well as a stuffed animal sized outfit for their new furry friend.
Lance Barksdale, set to work home plate in the Rays game later Tuesday evening, said, "This is a wonderful way for our umpires to give back in Major League cities across the country." Barksdale says that the umpires have really made a strong commitment to community with twelve scheduled hospital events and by providing many unique baseball experiences for children awaiting adoption this season.
After the room-to-room visits were complete, the umpires and Raymond set up stations in the lobby for other hospital patients to stop by and build their bears. Hospital staff and program sponsor representatives assisted the umpires to ensure a wonderful experience for everyone.
"It warms my heart to participate in such a wonderful program", said Cynthia Tornero of Bristol-Myers Squibb. "Bristol-Myers Squibb has sponsored the BLUE for Kids program for three years and I've been fortunate to participate in all three events here at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. What a wonderful way for the umpires, the Rays, and my fellow employees to give back to the community."
UMPS CARE Charities was founded in 2006 and the UMPS CARE signature Build-A-Bear Workshop® experience is called BLUE for Kids. In the past three years, the umpires have hosted 31 events distributing more than 2,500 Build-A-Bears to children. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gerry Davis Sports, The World Umpires Association, and MLB.com are caring supporters of the BLUE for Kids program.
For event photos and more information about the program, please visit www.UmpsCare.com.
Samuel Dearth is the executive director of UMPS CARE Charities. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.