Padres give kids 'once-in-a-lifetime' chance
SAN DIEGO -- Many kids growing up can only dream about what it would be like to play in a Major League ballpark.
But for 40 students at Silver Wing elementary school, that dream became a reality on Tuesday morning.
With partnership with the Star/Pal program in San Diego, which offers free programs for underserved and at-risk youth in San Diego led by law enforcement officers, 20 fifth graders and 20 sixth graders had the opportunity to play baseball in Petco Park's outfield before the Padres took on the Braves in the evening.
Students broke up into four teams, named after Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton and Tony Gwynn 1988, who wore the brown pinstriped jerseys. In right field, the children practiced catching fly balls, left field was batting practice and center field had a simulated game.
For the simulated game, each child's name was on the scoreboard in the batting order and each kid got to pick a walk-up song. From Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk to Fetty Wap's Trap Queen, each got to experience what it would be like for a player in a game.
Every student received gear to take home, and each child got their own locker in the auxiliary locker room, although that didn't stop them from asking Brandon Maurer to go see the real deal -- the Padres' clubhouse.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, no one else gets to say they have done this," student Carlos Macias said.
"I think this is huge for the kids," said officer Edwin Garrette, who is being honored before Tuesday's game for his service to the community, "I was born and raised in San Diego and grew up poor, so I was once in their shoes. Many of them have never been to Petco to see a game, so not only do they get to do that, but they get to play on the field -- it's a great opportunity."
As the activities looked to be winding down, former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman made an appearance, sparking another inning to begin. Maurer also made an appearance, giving advice to the kids on where to hit.
"Those kids could swing it, I was surprised," Maurer said. "None of them dove out the way, they were putting their nose down and trying to catch it."
First baseman Yonder Alonso joined his teammate as both signed autographs. One child had Alonso sign on his back, and then proclaimed that "it looked boss."
As the kids ate lunch in the stands, Alonso took their questions. He emphasized the importance of education and shared how he applies his study skills he learned in school to the game of baseball while studying pitchers and watching film.
Both Maurer and Alonso joked that the experience made them feel old, but added that despite their busy schedules, being part of the children's opportunity is meaningful.
"I remember big league guys coming over and practicing," Alonso said about his time growing up in Miami. "For me, that was life-changing. It didn't even have to be playing with them, just being on the same field, watching them practice. ... I knew it was something I wanted to get to, but I knew I needed to do a lot of other things to make sure I could get to that place."