PHOENIX -- When Willie Bloomquist signed with his hometown D-backs as a free agent before the 2011 season, he and his wife Lisa decided it was time they increased their impact off the field.
"We decided that with the opportunity to play at home that we should get involved in our home community and start doing something," Bloomquist said. "We figured that both of our passions are kids, we love kids and we got in touch with the Phoenix Children's Hospital, and that's really how it started."
Bloomquist started by making hospital visits and then began to host kids from the hospital at one game each homestand.
One of the kids who got to visit Bloomquist on June 15, 2011, was then-11-year-old patient, Abe Speck. Before the game Speck asked Bloomquist if he would point to him in the stands if he hit a home run that night.
"I said, 'I doubt I'm going to hit a home run. I don't hit very many home runs, but if I do, yeah, absolutely,'" Bloomquist said.
Speck, though, told Bloomquist he was sure he was going to hit a home run.
"I saw him hitting in batting practice and he looked pretty comfortable," Speck said. "It just kind of came to me that he was going to hit the home run."
In the third inning, Bloomquist did hit the home run, to left field off Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
And, yes, he pointed to Speck as he crossed home plate.
Feeling like maybe that was a sign, Willie and Lisa decided to try to raise their involvement to another level.
"It really kind of took off from there based on the story with Abe calling that home run that night," Bloomquist said.
The couple decided to start the Abe and Max Fund, named after Speck and another Phoenix Children's Hospital patient that Bloomquist befriended, Max Marangella.
Marangella, 11, was born with a number of congenital defects and has had 40 surgeries or procedures.
"He's had it a little bit rougher than most, but you'd never know it by his personality," Bloomquist said. "He's a ball of fire. He lights up a room more than anyone I've had out to the ballpark. It's impressive that he's gone through the adversity he has and he's still as happy as he is, as upbeat as he is and has such a good outlook on life. All of us can learn from that kid. It's a tribute to him and his family and how he was raised. It's incredible."
In addition, Willie and Lisa decided to start the Bloomquist Foundation to try to raise even more money.
The Abe and Max Fund raises money to be used to purchase electronics for kids at Phoenix Children's Hospital. There is a need for the electronics, especially for the kids who are stuck in their rooms following treatments or surgeries.
So through the fund, Bloomquist purchases everything from iPads to DVD players. Enough money has been raised to now have an electronics center where kids can order movies or games in the rooms.
"That goes a long way for the kids," Bloomquist said.
Bloomquist was honored for his efforts this year when he was the D-backs' nominee for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. Fittingly, it was Speck and Marangella who gave Bloomquist his award in a pregame ceremony in September.
Being recognized for his efforts is somewhat uncomfortable for Bloomquist.
"For us it's not about recognition or attention -- what we get out of it is the effect it has on the kids," Bloomquist said. "We get so much out of seeing the positive effect it has on the kids. It's almost selfish because we get every bit as much out of it as they do when we see the joy cross their faces. It lights them up despite how sick they are and they're able to muster a smile, so that part of it is what is gratifying and it's the whole reason we do it."
Recently, Bloomquist attended Speck's bar mitzvah, and during it Speck talked about the effect the Abe and Max Fund has had on his life.
"Seeing the impact it's had on his life is one of those things that makes you feel good inside," Bloomquist said.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.