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Big Unit returns to D-backs holiday event for underprivileged kids

MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

PHOENIX -- After he joined the D-backs in 1999, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson would pass out shoes to underprivileged kids in the stadium's rotunda area each Christmas.

Over the years, the D-backs' Winter Classic Holiday Party, presented by University of Phoenix, has grown. It's now held on the field, and while more than 600 children still received shoes, the event has become even more. Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made an appearance to speak with the kids.

PHOENIX -- After he joined the D-backs in 1999, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson would pass out shoes to underprivileged kids in the stadium's rotunda area each Christmas.

Over the years, the D-backs' Winter Classic Holiday Party, presented by University of Phoenix, has grown. It's now held on the field, and while more than 600 children still received shoes, the event has become even more. Even Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made an appearance to speak with the kids.

Johnson, who now works in Arizona's front office, got to see the growth up close at Thursday's event.

"Now there's entertainment and all kinds of cool little things," Johnson said. "The Diamondbacks have done a great job of taking this to another level. I didn't know they still did this."

Now, just as it was then, the purpose is to help make the holidays better for underprivileged kids who live in the vicinity of Chase Field.

Video: D-backs Winter Classic event

"The beauty of it is having Randy back now, and for him to see how big this has gotten," D-backs team president and CEO Derrick Hall said. "The number of kids continues to grow and also the number of our own participants -- players, former players, coaches. We want to have an impact on the kids who live close to the stadium and don't have access or means or the resources to pay for their own pair of shoes."

In addition to shoes and socks, the kids receive gifts, which include a D-backs sweatshirt, drawstring bag and books.

There was also a place for photos with Santa Claus, and the Phoenix Herpetological Society brought out some animals for kids to pet. There was a wiffle ball game with D-backs infielder Phil Gosselin pitching, a holiday craft station and characters from "Star Wars" as well.

"The Diamondbacks have always been very community-oriented as a franchise," Johnson said. "Probably one of the most community-oriented franchises. They stepped up then to help me get things going years ago, and now they've been doing it on their own and doing a lot more. It's great to see. It's awesome."

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks