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Posted June 17, 2013
Rays' Jennings and Ramos Visit Patients at ACH

Desmond Jennings and Cesar Ramos visit ACH
Desmond Jennings and Cesar Ramos visited ACH last week

Cesar Ramos

Desmond Jennings

Desmond Jennings is known for his good hands as a standout centerfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays. But it turns out they're just as steady cradling a sick baby as a high fly ball.

Jennings showed off his skills last Friday on a visit with teammate, reliever Cesar Ramos, and the club's furry blue mascot, Raymond. In an hour-long visit to All Children's Hospital, all three were big hits with patients, parents and staff, and one scene captured the uplifting tone of the tour perfectly.

It happened when Jennings stepped into a room on their eighth floor and encountered eight-week-old Ethan Jacobsen, whose mother Ana immediately recognized the Rays star. Ethan, who has been getting tests relating to his liver, had been fussing a bit. But seconds after Ana handed her baby to Jennings, the crying stopped.

"That's not fair!" she quipped, marveling over Jennings' special touch.

He spoke softly to Ethan, then added with a smile: "We've bonded. This is the only baby I've held who wasn't crying. I guess I've found me a new friend."

Several minutes later, Jennings gave the calm, peaceful baby back to the appreciative mother.

"I'll babysit," he joked as he said his goodbyes and headed off to the next room.

The visit made an impact on both the Jacobsens and Jennings.

"That was so cool," remarked Ana, an avid Rays fan. "It was so nice of him to come here, and he was so good with Ethan! I was impressed."

Later on, Jennings tweeted out a photo and message about the experience:  "I enjoyed my visit to @allchildrens this morning. I met some amazing kids including my little friend Ethan."

That was just one of many special moments during the trip with the Rays, who have joined forces with All Children's this season in a sponsorship deal. In another room, Jennings visited 5-year-old Dilan Cotto. A day earlier, Dilan got through a difficult procedure by being told to imagine his favorite team, the Rays, were cheering him on.

He had no idea that one of their stars would be knocking on his door the next day as he lay in bed, wearing his Rays pajamas. Jennings couldn't go inside the room for precautionary reasons, but Dilan was thrilled nonetheless. He didn't speak but his ear-to-ear grin said it all. "I hear you're a big Rays fan," Jennings commented. Dilan nodded. "I love those pajamas," Jennings added, autographing a player card for him. "Get well quick, okay?"

Dilan's mom, Michelle Sanchez, knew how much the encounter meant to her son, especially after his difficult test the previous day. "He was really struggling and his motivation to get through was thinking about the Rays, and he just kept going," she said. "You don't know how much this made his day. It's something so small and simple, but it means so much to him since he's a big, big baseball fan. This is a memory for his whole life."

By the elevators, nurse Sherry Belcher spotted Jennings, one of the top high school and junior college baseball and football players in Alabama as a teen, and called out, "Roll Tide!" They chatted briefly about 'Bama football before Jennings moved to the seventh floor, and Ramos arrived on the eighth.

Ramos was equally sure-handed with babies, holding 5-month-old Madison Green, and connecting with youngsters and parents each stop of the way, and sharing a conversation in Spanish with 12-year-old Melissa Gudino and her mother, Valentina.

For the record, Jennings and Ramos weren't the only Rays to visit All Children's last week. The morning after Tampa Bay's grueling 14-inning, 10-8 loss to Boston, 22-year-old starting pitcher Chris Archer - only recently called up from Triple-A Durham - woke up early as planned to spend time with kids at the hospital. It was his own decision to visit, and he came in spite of a disheartening game that ended past 2 a.m.

He made a special impression on 6-year-old Emily Clark before she underwent surgery. Her mother, Tania, later wrote in an email to the Rays:  "Emily had a great visit with Chris. Emily said right before they took her back to surgery...and just about an hour ago ... "Mama, Chris said I go home when better. Let's go home. I'm all better." I told her soon love, soon. She said "call him!" "I want to go home now!" Surgery went well. She still has a battle. No worries though. She is amazing! As Chris said ... "Emily is an inspiration."

Jennings and Raymond met bubbly little Emily on their visit as well, and she won them over just as quickly. "Thank you Desmond! See you soon," she called out as he waved goodbye.

In the lobby, the two players reflected on the time they'd just spent away from the ball field. "It's fun to be able to put a smile on somebody's face, especially with what they're going through," Ramos said. "And it puts a smile on our faces, too."

For Jennings, Friday marked a second trip to All Children's and he plans to make more. "It's really nice to see the joy that can come spending time here," he said.

Even for a sleeping baby in a ballplayer's arms.