Three years ago, the first UMPS CARE Charities Build-A-Bear Workshop took place in Baltimore, and on June 10, Major League Baseball umpires Gary Cederstrom, Fieldin Culbreth and Jim Wolf returned and teamed up with Baltimore's favorite orange-and-black feathered friend. Since that first event, over 3,500 Build-A-Bears have been hugged tight in children's hospitals nationwide, and this group distributed even more.
They went room-to-room for the first half of the visit, offering each patient his or her choice of a pre-stuffed bear and a favorite outfit. As they did, the Oriole Bird chirped, danced and mugged for the children to help bring a little joy into their day. The kids "loved having the Bird there," reported Cederstrom. "They tried to get pictures with him, went up to him ... it's an opportunity they wouldn't get any other time."
For the second half of the visit, the crew set up shop in a common area and hosted a building party for many more children. Dozens of kids built, stuffed and dressed their favorite animal with a helping hand -- choosing between a bear, a bunny, and a puppy, plus a variety of outfits -- and got to see a different side of the umpires than most see on television or at a ballgame.
Cederstrom was participating in his third such visit, while for Jim Wolf it was his first time. Hospital staff said Wolf was "a natural."
"I was a little apprehensive going in and didn't know what to expect," admitted Wolf. "A little intimidated, I guess. I didn't know what emotions were gonna come up. Once I did it and I met these patients, it was amazing."
"We would go room to room," continued Wolf, "and just spend some time with these kids. This one kid was just 19 years old, and we were told he hadn't smiled in weeks. I thought, 'This kid may never experience the things that most guys his age look forward to.' It crushed me, it really crushed me."
The group spent some time talking to him, and by the time they left there it was: his first smile in weeks. It's that kind of experience that keeps the umpires coming back.
Cederstrom agreed, stating readily that he returns year after year for the kids.
"Seeing their smiles and how much fun they have and giving them a moment from their troubles," Cederstrom said. "It's really a joy to be asked to go in and give the kids something they can remember."
So while this visit lasted less than two hours, the impact lasts much longer -- and so does the involvement of these umpires. UMPS CARE Charities raises money each year to purchase the Build-A-Bears, and the umpires are involved year-round. Baltimore is hosting one of the charity's key fundraisers this year, as the 3rd Annual Baltimore Run for Bears takes place on October 10 as part of the Baltimore Marathon. Runners receive pledges for their efforts to raise the necessary funds for the program. And both Cederstrom and Wolf are participating in another of the charity's fundraisers, the 2nd Annual UMPS CARE Charities Golf Marathon. Visit www.UmpsCare.com for more information about both these events and more, and to sponsor a runner or golfer.
Ken Sisk of Bristol-Myers Squibb, a corporate sponsor of UMPS CARE Charities, ran in last year's Run for Bears and also participated as a sponsor representative in the recent visit. Sisk is an executive territory manager in the oncology division at BMS, so these events hit close to home for him.
"There's a saying: 'You have to live the mission,'" explained Sisk. "Bristol-Myers Squibb allows us to live that mission daily. They allow us to step up as part of the company and as an individual."
And the result is events like this one. Other sponsors of the program include Gerry Davis Sports, The World Umpires Association and MLB.com.
From raising the money for the event to handing out the bears, UMPS CARE Charities is personally involved every step of the way. That makes it all the more meaningful for the participants on both sides. The effects can be powerful, as with Wolf's visit with the 19-year-old.
"Hearing that he smiled for the first time in a long time and that he was happy for a brief moment made the visit worthwhile," Wolf explained. "That we gave someone a little bit of happiness for just a brief moment, considering their situation. That made it all worthwhile."
Kevin Cuddihy is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.