MLB Together brings smiles to young hospital patients at Children's of Alabama

Joe Torre, reps from Cardinals and Giants' charitable arms visit prestigious facility

June 19th, 2024

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The push to extend MLB’s connections with local entities that provide essential care to the Birmingham community continued on Wednesday morning, when MLB Together and a few special guests visited the prestigious Children’s of Alabama hospital to honor the institution's pediatric healthcare efforts. The private, non-profit medical center -- which also serves as a teaching hospital for University of Alabama at Birmingham -- has had its doors open since 1911, striving to provide specialized care to ill and injured children from every county in the state.

On Wednesday, league executives and representatives from the Cardinals and Giants’ charitable foundations presented Children’s of Alabama with an MLB Legacy Plaque, commemorating their work to this point as well as their continued battle to bring care and comfort to sick children’s lives.

“This is such a special event, and we’re really honored that you would come share a little bit of your time with us here,” said Tom Shufflebarger, president and CEO of Children’s of Alabama. “Today there are about 300 patients in a bed somewhere up above us here. We’ll see over 200 kids in our ER, we’ll do 130 surgeries today, we’ll see about 1,200 outpatients for a speciality visit. This is the hub of pediatric care.”

Fredbird poses with patients during the 2024 MLB at Rickwood visit to Children's of Alabama. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“The Child Life program at Children’s of Alabama [brings] age-appropriate education, preparation and supportive therapeutic activities to minimize stress and help children and their families cope with being in the hospital,” said Honey Cook, the Child Life specialist at Children’s.

Some of the efforts surrounding MLB’s Tribute to the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field have focused on highlighting the philanthropic efforts of these legends off the field as well. People like the late, great Willie Mays, who was born and raised near Birmingham, were more than just ballplayers. They cared about the families in their community, reached out to the children that idolized them, made sure that they knew they were loved and valued.

The Cardinals and Giants have strived to represent those values in their own communities, and ahead of the Rickwood Field game, visiting Children’s of Alabama was just an extension of the care they attempt to give off the field.

“This is my third visit here, and like everyone said, it’s really a beautiful, welcoming space,” said Iowayna Peña, director of real estate and development for the Giants. “It’s been great to have the opportunity to engage with your community here, but especially today, engaging your beloved patients and staff.”

On hand to meet the brave children, their loving families and devoted caretakers were a number of MLB legends: Hall of Famer and special assistant to the Commissioner Joe Torre, All-Star and former Giants outfielder Randy Winn and 1987 NLCS MVP Jeffrey Leonard. And a couple of furry guests also appeared, Cardinals mascot Fredbird and Giants mascot Lou Seal, looking to provide laughs and smiles for even a brief moment.

Lou Seal spends time with a patient during the 2024 MLB at Rickwood visit to Children's of Alabama. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It’s hard to tell who was more excited to meet whom. Winn jumped at the opportunity to play tee-ball with a couple kids who tried to blast the balls off the balcony. Leonard patiently fielded question after question about his favorite part of being an outfielder, with he and Winn signing autographs for anyone who asked. Torre shared a special moment with a young boy named T.J., letting him wear one of his World Series rings and grasp a piece of glory for a feeling that might be cherished long after the details of the meeting are forgotten.

And if you ask any of these guests, there’s likely no place that they would have rather been at that very moment in time.

“You never want to see a child go through some of the things that you see, when you come to a children’s hospital -- more injury, more hurt, more medical woes than what you’d want for a child,” Winn said. “ … It’s very emotional. But if we can come in and bring a little bit of joy, to help them persevere, to continue to put one foot in front of the other ... It’s a small price to pay to help a child on the road to recovery.”

“It makes you reflect, it makes you think about how you live,” Leonard said. “ … To see these young fighters try to stay afloat, it makes you look back on your own life, actually. … But I’m seeing strength in these kids, I’m seeing hope. I’m seeing joy. ... It’s unbelievable.”