UMPS CARE Charities visited Cleveland for the first time on May 27, but the result was more of the same: more stuffed animals, more love shared, and more happy faces from both the patients and the umpires.
Major League Baseball umpires Angel Hernandez, Jim Reynolds, and Bill Welke joined with Cleveland Indians mascot Slider in a visit to the Children's Hospital Cleveland Clinic. With a helping hand from Laura Kelley, activities coordinator for the hospital, the crew delivered Build-A-Bears and countless smiles to the sick children.
"Laura was absolutely fantastic," said Reynolds. "The entire experience in Cleveland was great. The medical staff was there with us, community relations was there, it was just a wonderful experience."
The umpires and Slider set up shop in a playroom at the hospital, where patients visited with the group, selected their desired Build-A-Bear, and chose their favorite outfit, including an Indians uniform. Later the group went room to room and visited with those unable to venture out to the playroom, distributing even more of the stuffed animals. Many of the patients immediately recognized Slider, the cuddly creature who entertains thousands at every Indians home game. Upon seeing Slider enter her room, one young patient with blonde curly locks immediately spit her pacifier out and exclaimed, "Slider!" Her smile radiated throughout the brief visit.
The umpires may not be as recognizable, but their visits still brought the same smiles -- to the patients and the umps. Many only see umpires during close calls, arguments, and ejections on the field. They show a very different side with the children.
"We spend a couple minutes just to try to brighten their day," explained Reynolds. "You just try to get through the day without being overwhelmed and bring some smiles. I count my blessings and say a lot of prayers for these kids."
One visit in particular moved the group. Hospital staff asked them to visit a boy with a terminal illness who had been in the hospital for a month. His cancer had affected his brain and so during that month he had shown no emotion whatsoever.
"We hand him a bear," described Reynolds, "and all of a sudden he starts crying -- tears rolling out of his eyes. His grandmother starts crying, the nurse starts crying, it was absolutely overwhelming. Those are the times you realize that we are making an impact. It may be for just for a couple minutes, but it affected those people so much."
Reynolds and his fellow umpires work hard throughout the year raising money to purchase the bears that help make that impact. Reynolds is involved in two major golf fundraisers for UMPS CARE Charities, the Golf Classic and the 100-hole Golf Marathon. And according to Reynolds, that extra involvement makes everything all the more rewarding.
"We run the tournaments, we participate in raising the money, and then we participate in the programs," Reynolds said. "I really like the hands-on approach, and the amount of time our guys spend is just awesome."
In addition to fundraising events, UMPS CARE Charities receive corporate financial support from companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb. BMS employees like Joe Petrella volunteer at each event to ensure a wonderful experience for all.
"I wish all BMS representatives could observe what I did, as they would feel exceptionally blessed with their life as it is presently," said Petrella. "I feel my problems in life are small compared to these children, and they are truly heroes to me."
Shannon Sonnhalther, child life department supervisor at the hospital, also spoke about the impact of the visit.
"I only met Jim, Bill, and Angel for a few moments in the playroom today, but I cannot begin to tell you what a home run they hit," said Sonnhalter. "The visit confirms that sometimes children need more than medicine to get well!"
The UMPS CARE Charities signature Build-A-Bear Workshop experience is called BLUE for Kids. Umpires have distributed more than 3,500 Build-A-Bears since the program started. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gerry Davis Sports, The World Umpires Association, and MLB.com are caring supporters of the BLUE for Kids program.
For event photos and more information about the program -- including how to donate for a stuffed animal or sponsor an umpire for one of the golfing events -- please visit www.UmpsCare.com.
Kevin Cuddihy is a contributor to MLB.com.