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Rangers spread holiday cheer at kids hospital

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Rangers Captain is the first one in the atrium, and a girl in green pajamas lights up a smile when she sees the hard-working mascot arrive. She is clutching a stuffed panda as the Captain gives her a big hug.

Two young boys get a fist-bump as the Captain works the room. Players, coaches, broadcasters and other staff members are all present for the Rangers' annual Christmas visit to Cook's Children's Medical Center, but Ranger Captain -- dressed in a Santa Claus suit rather than his usual Western/baseball togs -- is always a huge hit with children anywhere.

The rest of the Rangers entourage stroll in to mingle with the children, and one of them is quite unfamiliar to anybody who has been following the club in the past. But Josh Lindblom and his wife, Aurielle, seem totally at ease as they start chatting with the children.

He asks one boy what his name is, and is told Hayes.

"How old are you?" Lindblom asks.

"Six," he replies.

"Six?" Lindblom said with a smile. "Soon you're going to be old enough to drive."

He stops and asks a young girl, "What is the one thing you want more than anything else for Christmas?"

"Clothes," she replies.

"Clothes?" Lindblom said, pointing to his wife. "She can give you some. She has extra."

Josh and Aurielle are as much at ease in this room as they were when they walked the streets of Los Angeles trying to help the homeless in the Skid Row section of town. He asks another girl where she is from.

"Dallas," she tells Lindblom.

"Well, we're from Indiana," he said. "We're new here. We've only been here one day."

The Rangers acquired Lindblom from the Phillies the previous Saturday. He is one of two pitchers acquired for infielder Michael Young, and he met pitcher Derek Holland for the first time while they were visiting with the children. But he was right there with Holland, Craig Gentry, Ian Kinsler and other new faces in bringing the holiday spirit to a Fort Worth institution.

"This is always a fun event for everybody, not only for the kids but the staff and the players, as well," Rangers vice president Jim Sundberg said. "It's always uplifting to come here and see the kids. Cook's Children's helped diagnose my grandson a few years ago, and it really helped. It's a great hospital and a great institution."

The players passed out presents and gift bags, signed autographs and had their pictures taken. Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve was among them, although not many remember him as a player.

"Their grandmothers do," Grieve said. "None of the mothers do, but three grandmothers do."

Does it matter?

"I'm just trying to make sure I meet everybody, just brighten up a child's day a little bit and see them smile," Gentry said. "They're in a little bit of a tough position, and just to bring them a little joy for a few minutes brightens up our day a little bit."

"It's just nice to see the smiles on the kids' faces," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It means a lot to the kids and it means a lot to us to see the smiles on their faces. They think we're celebrities, but we're just everyday people trying to put smiles on their faces. This is my seventh time coming here, and I look forward to it."

The visit to the Children's Hospital is just one of many charity events that various members of the Rangers get involved in during the holiday season, along with their Cowboy Santas Toy Drive and serving holiday meals in homeless shelters.

After hosting the party in the atrium, the Rangers entourage went upstairs and spent another hour visiting children in their rooms.

"This is huge for me to see these kids," Holland said. "Unfortunately they don't get to spend Christmas at home, they're in here trying to get better. We want them to feel some happiness and joy. We support them, and hopefully they'll all be out soon. We're here just to try and help them get through this. Let them enjoy themselves and have fun."

General manager Jon Daniels was among those who toured the hospital. One hour later, he was at another location to answers questions from reporters about Texas' offseason plans.

Daniels opened the session by telling the media, "I just toured the Children's Hospital. I can handle anything you guys throw at me."