Yankees' HOPE Week: Batting A Thousand

Jul 19, 2011
Originally published on July 20, 2011 8:43 am

Virtually all professional sports franchises make a point of aligning themselves in some ways with charities. From a cynical point of view, it's good public relations. But my experience is that the teams are genuine in their good works. And a funny thing often happens. Perhaps especially where children are involved, some of the athletes who initially look upon their involvement with a team's charity as drudgery — just more PR duty — end up being quite moved.

Some athletes even get deeply, personally involved. The story of Babe Ruth fulfilling his promise to hit a home run for a kid in a hospital is the stuff of myth — but, yes, it really happened. The boy's named was Johnny Sylvester.

Ted Williams' Jimmy Fund for children with cancer is perhaps the best-known example of a star turning personal experience into a full-fledged foundation. But there really are a lot of athletes who catch on to how lucky they are to be physically blessed and therefore care more for those who got the short end of that same stick.

It may surprise you that the Yankees, despite that cold, corporate image, have perhaps the sweetest, most personal program of any team. Starting July 25, smack in the middle of the season, the Yankees — players and coaches all — will participate in what they call HOPE Week.

Five different deserving organizations have been chosen, and each day various Yankees will go out and share some happy experience with the lucky recipients. Yes, absolutely every Yankee on the team has volunteered to spend time away from the park with people who have suffered some setback in life.

Last year, for example, Manager Joe Girardi went out to New Jersey, surprised an elderly blind Yankee fan, and came to the stadium with her and her guide dog exactly as she normally made the trip: 2 1/2 hours of train, subway and sidewalk.

HOPE Week this year will mean that some of the Yankees will be riding on a double-decker bus with several children from Haiti who were rescued after the earthquake and brought to New York to live. It'll be a good old-fashioned sightseeing trip, ending up at the Empire State Building, where the Haitian boys and girls will light the tower.

On another day, other Yankees will go to a beach party with children who lost a parent 10 years ago, on that awful Sept. 11. Then, the players will ride together with the boys and girls in a water taxi up to the old ball yard.

Yankee HOPE Week has been such a lovely success that this year, the Minnesota Twins have also instituted a similar program.

Yeah, of course, sports is a business. And the best players make millions, and the worst among them are terrible people. But some of them are really nice guys. And sometimes, as the song from the old musical Damn Yankees has it, "You've gotta have heart."

And yes, many of them, damn Yankees and otherwise, really do.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Of course, many people see astronauts as heroes. Athletes are often held up as heroes and almost as often knocked down as disappointments. It is that context that some teams try to polish their image with an act that may in fact polish the people.

Here's commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: Virtually all professional sports franchises make a point of aligning themselves in some way with charities. From a cynical point of view, its good public relations. But my experience is that the teams are genuine in their good works. And a funny thing often happens. Perhaps especially where children are involved, some of the athletes who initially looked upon their involvement with a teams charity as drudgery - just more P.R. duty - they end up by being quite moved. Some athletes even get deeply, personally involved.

The story of Babe Ruth fulfilling his promise to hit a home run for a kid in the hospital is the stuff of myth. But, yes, it really happened. The boys named was Johnny Sylvester.

Ted Williams Jimmy Fund, for children with cancer, is perhaps the best known example of a star turning personal experience into a full-fledged foundation. But there really are a lot of athletes who catch on how lucky they are to be physically blessed, and therefore care more for those who got the short end of that same stick.

It may surprise you that the Yankees, despite that cold, corporate image, have perhaps the sweetest, most personal program of any team. Starting this Monday, smack in the middle of the season, the Yankees - players and coaches all - will participate in what they call Hope Week. Five different deserving organizations have been chosen. And each day, various Yankees will go out and share some happy experience with the lucky recipients.

Yes, absolutely every Yankee on the team has volunteered to spend some time away from the park, with people who have suffered some setback in life.

Last year, for example, Manager Joe Girardi went out to New Jersey, surprised an elderly, blind Yankee fan and came to the Stadium with her and her Seeing Eye dog, exactly as she normally made the trip: two-and-a-half hours of train, subway and sidewalk.

Hope Week this year will mean that some of the Yankees will be riding on a double-decker bus with several children from Haiti, who were rescued after the earthquake and brought to New York to live. Itll be a good old-fashioned sight-seeing trip, ending up at the Empire State Building, where the Haitian boys and girls will light the tower.

On another day, other Yankees will go to a beach party with children who lost a parent 10 years ago on that awful September 11th. Then the players will ride together with the boys and girls in a water taxi up to the old ball yard. Nice.

Yankee Hope Week has been such a lovely success, that this year the Minnesota Twins have also instituted a similar program.

Yeah. Yeah, of course, sports is a business, and the best players make millions and the worst among them are terrible people. But some of them are really nice guys. And sometimes, as the song from the old musical "Damn Yankees!" has it: "You Gotta Have Heart." And yes, many of them, Damn Yankees and otherwise, really do.

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford sends a piece of his heart each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

(Soundbite of movie, "Damn Yankees!")

Unidentified Man: (as Washington Senators Coach) Now listen to me, you guys. This game of baseball is only one-half skill. The other half is something else - something bigger.

(Soundbite of song, "You Gotta Have Heart")

Unidentified Man: (as Washington Senators Coach) You gotta have heart. All you really need is heart. When the odds are saying...

INSKEEP: Sing it, Mary Louise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: (Singing) It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

You're on your own with that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: We're done. Im Mary Louise Kelly.

(Soundbite of song, "You Gotta Have Heart")

Unidentified Man: (as Washington Senators Coach) Nothin's half as bad as it may appear. Wait'll next year and hope. When your luck is battin' zero... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.