SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- "Everyday Eddie" Guardado was back in the Twin Cities on Friday, the place where he blossomed during his 17-year career as a two-time All-Star closer for Minnesota in 2002-03. Guardado is 43 now, and jokingly refers to himself as a "taxi driver," because he spends much of these days driving his three children (ages 17, 12 and 9) around to sports practices and activities at home in Orange County, Calif.
Being summoned for this particular All-Star appearance was much different as a retired baseball player. Guardado brought his two oldest sons, Nico and Jacob, along with him to represent the host Twins as they, MLB and the Starlight Foundation dedicated a Starlight Fun Center mobile unit in the Child Life Zone of the Children's Hospitals of Minnesota's Saint Paul facility.
Looking into the eyes of the patients who savored this respite from their ongoing treatments, as parents stood beside them, Guardado delivered once more.
"I grew up in Stockton, Calif., with nine brothers and sisters, my dad worked in the fields, all of that good stuff," Guardado told them. "But he always taught me how to survive. You guys are going to be survivors and you are going to work hard to survive, and that's all that matters. I just wanted to let you know that nothing but love is going to complete that.
"Love is going to do that, and you all are loved. I just wanted to let you know that. Thanks for having me and I appreciate it. Keep fighting guys and you're going to be all right."
Children's Hospitals of Minnesota is one of the largest in the world, comprised of this hospital plus another in neighboring Minneapolis. Combined, they treat more than 200,000 patients per year. The hospitals oversee 15,000 admissions, many of which are the most serious types of illnesses and chronic conditions.
The Starlight Fun Center mobile entertainment unit contains the latest gaming system and rolls bedside in hospitals to provide entertainment and therapeutic play for pediatric patients. It is traditional every year for MLB to dedicate these at host sites during All-Star Week and the World Series.
Appearing along with Guardado at this dedication event and ribbon-cutting was Twins president Dave St. Peter; Alec Mahmood, chief financial officer of Children's Hospitals of Minnesota; MLB vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell; MLB Goodwill ambassador Vera Clemente; and MLB mascots PAWS (Tigers) and the Pirate Parrot (Pirates).
"This is fantastic," Mahmood said. "The type of donation that we got is going to give hours of fun to some of the kids who really could use a break from some of their treatments. To see Major League Baseball, Eddie Guardado and Mrs. Clemente show up, I think it's a great job by MLB."
Guardado signed an elaborate autograph on the wall in the Child Life Zone with the words "Stay Strong." He said he puts those words on any autograph that "really means something." This signature figures to stay there a long time as daily food for thought.
"I'm touched just to be here, I really am," Guardado said after the event. "I brought two of my kids along, just to realize that they both play sports and they need to know that if you strike out, or you give up a run, it's not that big a deal. There's always somebody else doing worse. That's why I brought them here, to put it in perspective that life's too short to worry about the small things."
Guardado's youngest child, Ava, has autism.
"You're dealing with a disability kid, it's tough. I know how tough it is every day," he said. "But like I said here, with love, we can beat anything.
"I think brave is the word that describes everything. I can't imagine, as a parent with three of my own, for them to have to be here every day and watch their kids battle. Whatever it is, that has to be devastating. You've got to give those parents a sense of hope and encouragement, too, because they've got to come with a smile on their face. That's the last thing their kids want to see -- mom and dad down and out -- so they've got to suck it up, and have that smile on their face every day and watch that kid go through what they're going through."
Guardado led the Majors in saves with 45 in 2002, and was one of the American League pitchers used up during that tie in the '02 All-Star Game in Milwaukee. He also was an All-Star the next summer when the White Sox hosted.
"The first one was exciting, overwhelmed because playing the game you never say, 'I'm going to be an All-Star,'" Guardado said. "You just want to do well and hopefully stay in the Major Leagues. To become an All-Star, that means you did something.
"Today, I think I'm working harder now than when I played. I'm a taxi driver -- driving the kids here and there, practice. You know what, I couldn't ask for anything more, and being brought back here is so special. When you're done playing, everybody seems to forget you. Minnesota's always been great to me. Especially to be here for this particular day is special. I'm just honored."