|Baseball Umpires Make All the Right Calls During their Visit to All Children’s Hospital|
But Wednesday morning at All Children's Hospital, a crew of men in blue were delighted to strike a high profile and cheerily get in the faces of sick children and their appreciative families.
The guys who make tough calls for a living couldn't wait to call on the kids at ACH, where being "safe" has an entirely different meaning -- and waiting to be "outta here" is the name of the game.
Three umps in town for the current Tampa Bay Rays home stand - Marvin Hudson, Wally Bell and Jordan Baker - arrived on behalf of Umps Care Charities, along with Rays' mascot Raymond and sponsors from Bristol-Meyers. And they spent nearly two hours pulling wagons filled with Build-A-Bears stuffed animals and an array of outfits, hardly fitting the image of gruff, no-nonsense arbiters of America's pastime.
"We come in and it's all about the kids when we're here," said Marvin Hudson, a 14-year veteran MLB umpire and member of the executive board of Umps Care, based in Annapolis, Md. "We just try to put a smile on their face and let them know they're not forgotten because they're in a hospital. We want to make it lighter for them as far as the day goes. All the kids here are great and it's been a very rewarding trip."
Along the way, the umpires made a point of joking around with the kids they saw, often poking fun at themselves in the process.
"The home plate umpire wasn't very good last night, was he?" deadpanned Bell as he spoke to 19-year-old Nick Tutterow from Bradenton - and pointed to Hudson.
When the teen told Bell he wasn't a huge baseball fan, he quipped, "I'm not either."
Emma Jones, 11, won over everybody with her big personality. "Raymond, what are you doing here?" she exclaimed. She was equally excited to be presented with a stuffed animal by the umps. "Oh wow! I think I'd like the ballerina one! It's the best ever."
"It's so sweet," said her mother, Dori. "She was having a very rough day and have no idea how long we'll be here. So this is really encouraging for her. I'm very appreciative of these guys - and I know she is, too."
The group huddled in for a photo to preserve the memory of another special moment of the morning, one which captured the soft hearts of the men known for their stern ways.
"We do 12 of these kind of visits a year, and the umpires always love it," said Umps Care executive director Jenn Solochenko. "They're normal human beings first and foremost and the get a really bad rap for their line of work. But they're really great guys and they give back to their community. And they're really tremendous with the children that they see - both on the field with our ticket program and off the field in our hospitals. They give a lot of time and energy."
Baker, primarily a Triple-A umpire who has seen increasing action in the big leagues this season, experienced his first visit to a children's hospital Wednesday. It had even more meaning for the Oklahoma resident since he and his wife are expecting twins in March.
"It's really touching," he said. "To see these kids light up when you give 'em a bear. A stuffed animal goes a long way with them. It's the least we can do to get out of bed a littler earlier and try to help these kids out."
Bell has umpired in the majors for 22 years, and has been a regular at children's hospital visits since Umps Care started some eight years ago.
'The majority of umpires give their time like this, and it's important," he said. "What we told Jordan was that when he leaves here, he's going to feel so much better that he did this. You see some tough situations but you just try to make everyone smile. It's completely worthwhile."
And the easiest call an ump can make.