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Former Royals players visit kids in hospital

Club teams up with MLB to dedicate Starlight Fun Center mobile entertainment unit

KANSAS CITY -- A half-million kids per year come to Children's Mercy. For seven former Royals players, the least they could do was to come here with Major League Baseball, the Royals organization and the Starlight Children's Foundation on Wednesday to help put some smiles on kids' faces before Game 2 of the World Series (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time).

"Since you couldn't go out to the ballpark," Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery told some of the young patients, "we thought we'd bring a little bit here to you."

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Montgomery, Jim Eisenreich, Ed Hearn, Steve Jeltz, Brian McRae, Joe Randa and Shawn Sedlacek were in attendance, and the kids' parents knew about these former big leaguers. All the children knew was that they were here to dedicate a Starlight Fun Center mobile entertainment unit, continuing MLB's steady work behind the scenes at the World Series to make a difference.

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This familiar community event happens at MLB jewel events year-round, and a similar event will take place on Thursday afternoon in New York when the Fall Classic shifts there. The Starlight Fun Center is equipped with the latest gaming system that rolls bedside in hospitals to provide entertainment and the healing power of play to pediatric patients.

"We appreciated the invitation to come out and enjoy this and be a part of it," said Montgomery, a three-time All-Star who pitched for the Royals from 1988-99 and saved 304 games. "A lot of our guys were very willing, signed up immediately, and here we are today putting smiles on some kids' faces, helping them maybe overcome some of those obstacles now that they are encountering, and trying to encourage them to stay positive.

"To see the end result, how important it is to the children, that's what makes it all worthwhile."

Also in attendance were: Sharon Robinson, MLB's educational consultant and the daughter of legendary trailblazer -- and former Kansas City Monarchs player -- Jackie Robinson; Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs; Royals broadcaster and former player Rex Hudler; former Royals trainer Mickey Cobb; Shanelle Varone, managing director of philanthropic giving at Children's Mercy; Janice Polizzotto, senior director of global partnerships at Starlight Children's Foundation; and, of course, Royals mascot Sluggerrr.

"These kids will remember this," said McRae, who spent his first five big league seasons with Kansas City (1990-94) and also played three seasons with the Mets. "They might not remember our names, but they'll remember that some ballplayers came and took some time out of their busy schedules during the World Series to hang out with them for a little bit.

"They're going through some things that I can only imagine are very tough. They may be here for months on end and they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel, but maybe doing something like this today gives them a little break from what's going on. It may be short, but it's something that they probably need to get them through what they are going through."

Varone said an event like this has a tremendous impact on patients and their families at Children's Mercy and its 12 locations. She also noted that Royals alumni typically make these kinds of visits year-round, often without any fanfare whatsoever.

"The partnership with MLB and the Starlight Children's Foundation is significant for our hospital," Varone said. "We are fighting every day to keep children healthy in Kansas City and beyond our whole region.

"Not all children can be at their rooms at all times. An example of that is our oncology outpatient clinic. They're in different bays, so to have these [Starlight Fun Center units] with wheels that you can roll around maybe in our emergency department, some areas just to be able to meet the children where they are, makes it really important."

Varone added that being able to play and "normalize" is a part of healing.

"It's the family-centered care psychosocial side of health," she said. "When you feel better and you're having fun, your brain releases things that make you heal. So it really does, your spirits are lifted. And then the parents' spirits are lifted. I think we sometimes forget about that family-centered care. When the parents feel better, then the child feels better."

Hearn, who was Gary Carter's backup catcher on the 1986 World Series champion Mets and was then traded to Kansas City in a deal for David Cone, is a motivational speaker who gave the young attendees and their families some words of inspiration. He addressed his own family's tough times in dealing with similar adversity. Hearn and his son Cody are cancer survivors, the latter in remission after being diagnosed with Stage 3 Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"It's a team effort in coming back, so I applaud you," Hearn told them. "Keep swinging, you all, keep swinging."

Varone said having the World Series in Kansas City again gives Children's Mercy and the entire community a much-needed boost.

"For our children's hospital, it lifts everyone up," she said. "Everyone's excited, everyone's wearing blue, our city is on fire right now. It is exciting to be a Kansas Citian. And we are blessed to have MLB come today, because everyone is busy. Everyone was up all hours of the evening going on no sleep, so to be able to come down here and support the children, it's significant."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.
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