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Yankees begin HOPE Week by visiting Rockaway Special Athletes

The Yankees kicked off HOPE Week 2013 with a visit to St. Rose of Lima School in Rockaway, N.Y. to meet the Rockaway Special Athletes.

Rockaway Special Athletes was founded in 1996 by Joe Featherston to provide recreational activities for children and adults with disabilities. The group's original home was St. Camillus-St. Virgilius Parish, but they have relocated to St. Rose of Lima School due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.

On Monday, the athletes gathered for their weekly meeting as usual. But this time, they were in for a surprise: New York Yankees Ivan Nova, Zoilo Almonte, Adam Warren, David Adams, Preston Claiborne and Alberto Gonzalez were there waiting for them. The Yanks played some basketball, kickball and even wiffleball with the special athletes.

"To make them smile, those kids, it's unbelievable. Something that you dream to do," Nova said.

Nova's most memorable moment? "The running. I already did my day's workout," he joked.  

After a fun-filled afternoon, the Rockaway Special Athletes traveled to Yankee Stadium to take in batting practice from the field and meet more players. A few members of the group exchanged lineup cards before the evening's game against Kansas City. One athlete even threw out the ceremonial first pitch!

"It's a blessing. To be able to come out here and give back to some of these kids, and be made available to them and see how big their smiles are and how big their hearts are, it's very touching. I am happy to do it every single time," Claiborne said.

-- Matt Latimer / MLB.com Real-Time Correspondent

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