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.