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Former Nats add smiles to Miracle League game

MLB.com @alysonfooter

WASHINGTON -- Hits, high-fives and happy faces were prominently displayed in every corner of left field on Friday at Nationals Park, site of one of the best events Major League Baseball hosts as part of its annual All-Star festivities leading up to the 89th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX. 

Kids of all ages participated in the Miracle League-Challenger Game, a matchup involving special needs kids that provided an opportunity to play baseball on the very field that the Major League All-Stars will occupy on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON -- Hits, high-fives and happy faces were prominently displayed in every corner of left field on Friday at Nationals Park, site of one of the best events Major League Baseball hosts as part of its annual All-Star festivities leading up to the 89th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX. 

Kids of all ages participated in the Miracle League-Challenger Game, a matchup involving special needs kids that provided an opportunity to play baseball on the very field that the Major League All-Stars will occupy on Tuesday.

:: Complete All-Star Game coverage ::

This game pitted kids from the Miracle League vs. the Little League's Challenger Division. Every player had an at-bat and a chance to circle the bases, while mingling with several former Nationals players who were on hand to cheer on the kids.

"Baseball's for everyone," said former Nats pitcher Sean Burnett, one of several former players serving as All-Star ambassadors this week. "The Challenger League and the Miracle League create great opportunities for these kids to get on a baseball field and play like the pros do. To get these kids on an All-Star field is special."

In addition to Burnett, three other former Nats were also on hand to join in the fun: former infielder/outfielder Scott Hairston, who played for Washington from 2013-14; Kevin Frandsen, a nine-year Major League infielder who played for the Nats in '14; and pitcher John Lannan, who pitched for the Nats from 2007-12 as part of an eight-year career.

"Looking around and seeing these kids have fun, it's so much fun," Hairston said, adding that he wished his brother-in-law, who has cerebral palsy, was there to experience it, too. "It's a great time for everybody, to see all these happy people together."

The Nationals alums were assigned to different bases, giving high-fives to the participants as they worked their way from station to station.

"It's a great experience for both sides," Lannan said. "You can see these kids here today, they're smiling from ear to ear. This is a great experience for everybody involved."

Both the Miracle League and Little League Challenger Division cater to kids with special needs, with the goal to eliminate any barriers that would keep a child with disabilities from experiencing fun on a baseball field.

Video: Organizers and participants on Challenger Series

Major League Baseball, which hosts more than a dozen youth-centric events during All-Star Week, provided all participants in the Miracle League-Challenger Game with jerseys that had their names on their backs. The kids paraded onto the field, waved to their families in the stands, went through general stretching exercises and calisthenics with Screech the mascot and Teddy the Racing President -- and then it was game time.

The game lasted a little over an hour. The memories from the event will likely last a lifetime.

"It's very cool," said Jeremy Flug, founder of Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids, which also provides baseball activities to special needs youth. "Anybody who has been to an adult fantasy camp will ask themselves, 'Why aren't we doing this for kids? And special needs kids, to give them this opportunity?' It's been a lot of fun. I couldn't be any happier with the energy and the turnout and the big smiles, and of course, the jerseys."

The game, Flug added, leveled the proverbial playing field for a day.

"There's a lot of takeaways," he said. "I get a lot of letters from parents and kids saying, 'That was really cool.' I'll take that any day of the week. That's baseball -- it brings a lot of smiles."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.