NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America are finishing another extraordinary year of working together to give children a brighter future, through endless events ranging from club renovations to youth baseball events to gold-ball donations at the Home Run Derby.
The ultimate reward is simply seeing a smile on the face of a child who can use a hand. Those smiles seemed enough to light up all of Manhattan on Friday night at the MLB Fan Cave, where MLB's Winter Wishes 2013 brought Santa Claus in to give presents to kids from the Thomas S. Murphy unit of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in Brooklyn.
MLB employees volunteer each year to respond to letters with individual wishes from children via New York Cares. In addition to receiving packages from the jolly one and MLB elves, the children were entertained by master illusionist Elliot Zimet; given a nutritious spread; attired in new MLB gear; and they got to meet Mr. Met and pose with the World Series Trophy. Just your average Friday night in the big city.
"Once again, Major League Baseball's employees, their generosity has been overwhelming," said Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs. "This year we answered 160 letters from children at a public school in Brooklyn as well as the Murphy Clubhouse of the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club. The 160 letters went pretty much in two days.
"Our employees are just super-generous and happy to help these kids out. The look on their faces when they get their gifts and they see Santa, food we're going to serve today as well as getting their picture taken with the World Series trophy, it's a great day for them, it's a great day for us at Baseball, and we're happy to make the holiday season a little bit brighter for these kids."
Zimet gave them the gift of magic. The master illusionist has been featured on "America's Got Talent" and MTV, played Madison Square Garden and Las Vegas and off-Broadway, and has been called upon by A-list celebrities such as Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, Sean "Diddy" Combs and David Copperfield.
His innovative approach provides audiences with mind-blowing magic and audience interaction, and this particular audience required just a little different touch, the kind that entertains wide-eyes boys and girls by somehow shoving a magic marker through your nose and ears and out your mouth. How did he do that? If the kids were captivated, then just imagine how Zimet felt.
"It's amazing. I love giving back to kids," he said. "They were such an amazing group and the smallest things mean so much to them. Whatever I can do to touch their hearts is important to me. They had an absolute blast. I'm really fortunate.
Asked about this event versus a large-scale audience of adults, he said, "It's a lot more special. It means more to them than to an audience when you are on tour in front of thousands of people on TV. It touches them in a more personal, intimate way. It's a lot more special to me because I know it means the world to them."
For more than a century, Madison Square Boys & Girls Club has been providing a solution to the problems facing New York City's youth. Madison's six sites serve nearly 5,000 children and teens every year in the metropolitan area's toughest and poorest neighborhoods. Staggering dropout rates, lack of after-school programming, violence, crime, and broken families plague these communities. Multiply this times all the communities with BGCA help.
"It's been a great year with Boys & Girls Clubs," Brasuell said. "They serve more than 4 million children worldwide at 4,000 facilities -- schools, traditional Boys & Girls Clubs, Native American lands, housing authority property. They're just a fantastic organization that gives children great futures, and we're proud to support them."
To see these kids from the Murphy Clubhouse sitting on Santa's lap, to see them laughing, was a sight to behold. Shana Savage, education director of the Murphy Clubhouse, said while the kids were wolfing down Philly cheese steaks, chicken fingers and salad that they been "looking forward to it all week."
"They were so excited on the ride down and they're ecstatic to be here," she said. "It's a great opportunity for them to get out of the Brooklyn area, where they live, and see a new environment and just have fun during the holiday season. They're getting a gift, they enjoyed a great magic show, it's just a wonderful opportunity, something they might not have had a chance to participate in if it was not for the Boys & Girls Club. That's what makes the Boys & Girls Club so unique -- it opens up a world of opportunities to inner-city kids who might not have had the opportunities otherwise."
She called MLB "a valued partner, because we couldn't do a lot of the things we do without them." And she asks that the public feel free to get involved, at their club or any other B&GCA location. Please visit madisonsquare.org and follow @MadisonBGClub for more information, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Definitely, you can always go on our website to donate or just donate your time," Savage said. "We're always looking for mentors, we're looking for professionals to come and read a story to our kids. Once a month we had the Red Chair, and we read to our kids. We're looking for mentors, and we're looking for donors. At any time, go to our website, come to our location at 2245 Bedford Ave., and we'll be happy to see you."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.