WASHINGTON -- The children at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon were supposed to gather in right field for a group photo at the end of the PLAY event, but many of them instead converged around Anthony Rendon, hugging and chatting with the Nationals third baseman."We got to take a group
WASHINGTON -- The children at Nationals Park on Wednesday afternoon were supposed to gather in right field for a group photo at the end of the PLAY event, but many of them instead converged around Anthony Rendon, hugging and chatting with the Nationals third baseman.
"We got to take a group photo," Rendon shouted.
After a few moments, the kids assembled for the picture, then formed a long line to obtain Rendon's autograph.
Rendon, Erick Fedde and Nationals trainers spent time with children for two hours Wednesday, when the Nationals hosted a Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth (PLAY) Campaign event. PLAY's mission is to raise awareness for children's health issues, the obesity epidemic and disability inclusion in the United States.
"It's more out here getting them to run around for a little bit, try to get their minds off whatever they got going on and let them enjoy the last couple days of summer," Rendon said. "I know a couple of the kids were like, 'I go back tomorrow, so I got to leave early!' … It's good just to hang out with them, though. See them smile."
PLAY, which started in 2004, has conducted more than 300 events throughout every Major League ballpark, reaching kids with messages about healthy decisions. The PLAY campaign linked with the Ruderman Family Foundation, MLB Charities, the Taylor Hooton Foundation and the Henry Schein Cares Foundation for Wednesday's affair.
In 2014, the PLAY Campaign became the first program in professional sports to include children with disabilities. Youngsters from the National Down Syndrome Society took part Wednesday.
The Nationals traded two of their best offensive players Tuesday and finished their win over the Phillies after midnight because of a one-hour, 42-minute rain delay. Nationals director of athletic training Paul Lessard said seeing the energy and joy the children with Down syndrome brought improved his attitude.
"The guys just really smile and they're like, 'OK, let's do it,'" Lessard said. "They're out here hustling, working their butts off. They bring smiles to our face, because they see us enjoying them as well."
About 100 kids rotated between five stations, which included catching fly balls, hitting a ball off a tee with one's hands, running through an agility ladder, throwing a bullpen session and learning about injury prevention.
Rendon threw fly balls to the participants while Fedde gave them tips in the bullpen on how to revamp their throws.
When the event ended, Rendon and Fedde remained on the field for about 10 minutes signing autographs.
"Growing up, any time anybody with some talent level above me was willing to work with me, it meant the world," Fedde said. "I'd come home screaming to mom and dad about how awesome it was. I'm glad I can give back."
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.