SAN DIEGO—As memorable as the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic should be for those who take the field Sunday at the Padres' Petco Park, event organizers hope the players remember it for experiences that go beyond baseball.
Participants for the East and West teams went through a workout and scrimmage Friday morning at the University of San Diego. Following lunch on the campus, the players and their coaches boarded a bus bound for the nearby Rady Children's Hospital, which has been a beneficiary of the game since 2006. In connection with the event through the years, Aflac has donated $805,000 toward the research and treatment of pediatric cancer.
Rady treated 143,000 children last year. In October, a new wing is scheduled to open that will make it the largest children's hospital in California. Those were among the facts and figures the players heard during a tour of the hospital. What made the most impact, however, was their interaction with the patients.
Players painted and colored with some of the children. A boy named Jake gave several of the West players all they could handle in air hockey. Matt Dean, an infielder from The Colony High in Texas, crouched down to greet Bradley when a youngster was wheeled into the room by his father in a stroller. Bradley didn't say much, but he gladly accepted a little stuffed duck — which shouted "Aflac!" when its stomach was squeezed — offered by Dean.
"To be here and see the smiles on the kids' faces means a lot to me," said Dean. "It's sad that they have to go through this. . . . It makes me realize that I'm really lucky to be as fortunate as I am."
West infielder Phillip Evans, from La Costa Canyon High about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, and three of his teammates played an impromptu game of baseball with a boy named Javid, who enjoyed himself swinging a large inflatable bat at a supersized inflatable ball.
"That's what we're here for," said Evans, who choked up a bit as he spoke. ". . . try to make them happy and feel as comfortable as possible,"
Players are most familiar with minor injuries, like scratches and scrapes or bumps and bruises. So it was sobering for some to see the signs of serious illness. Many of the children came into the recreation room with a parent trailing behind them pulling an IV pole. Several kids were bald, their hair having fallen out from chemotherapy treatments. One came in on crutches and another with a walker. Each was missing a leg. No one asked, but it likely was the result of bone cancer.
"Some kids are here being treated for cancer, some because their asthma is acting up, some for surgery, anything you can imagine," said Carol Damon-Scherer, vice president of corporate and community development at Rady. "It's tough times. Families are often coming here in crisis. They're scared. They'e worried. The kids are scared and worried as well. Visits like this can really bring a smile to their face. It's a wonderful diversion for them.
"Sometimes the kids are really shy when they're meeting the players, but they'll be just jabbering away tonight like, 'Guess what I saw? Guess what I got to do?' It really makes a huge difference to them."
West firstbaseman/outfielder Daniel Camarena knows. Camarena, who attends Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, came to Rady three years ago when his younger brother, Christian, was a patient. Camarena said his brother was in and out of the hospital for treatment during a six-month period.
"He had a problem with swelling on his brain," said Camarena. "He's doing fine now. I just remember the days when people would come to visit him and the smiles it put on his face. It meant a lot, especially it being my brother. It makes their days and helps get them through what they have to go through. What they have to go through is not easy at all. . . .
"I know what it means to give back."
— The highlight of Friday's scrimmage was a first-inning grand slam by West outfielder Billy Flamion, who made the best contact of anyone swinging wood bats when he drove a ball over the right field wall at USD's Cunningham Stadium.
"He threw me a fastball right down the middle," said Flamion, an outfielder from Central Catholic High in Northern California. "I feel really comfortable with wood since I've been swinging with it all year. They (scouts in attendance) got to see that I have some power. But it was just a scrimmage. All that matters is the game on Sunday."
— The teams will practice again Saturday morning at USD. The workout will conclude with the first round of the home run derby. The top four performers advance to the derby finals at Petco Park before Sunday's game, which will be televised by FOX Sports Net at 8 p.m. EDT.
— Neither team will be at full strength until Saturday when four players are to arrive from Farmington, N.M., where they were competing late Friday night in the championship of the Connie Mack World Series. Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy, righthanders for the West team, were playing for the Dallas Dbat Mustangs in the finals against the Cincinnati Midland Redskins. The Midland roster includes Dillon Howard, a righthander for the West, and Brandon Sedell, a catcher for the East.