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Extended spring squad makes HOPE week visit

Extended spring squad makes HOPE week visit
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Yankees announced they would extend their HOPE Week initiative to all their Minor League affiliates, it was an obvious choice for their extended spring training squad to visit the Children's Home of Hillsborough County.

That's because both the Steinbrenner family and the team already had a long-standing tradition, which grew even more on Thursday when players paid a visit to spend time with the kids.

"I know it was important to come here," Alex Cotto, the organizer of the events, said. "I made it a point to come here."

Though the weather did not permit for the pool party that was originally planned, the players still made the most of their time with the children by playing basketball, ping-pong, video games or just talking to them.

"It's about how much you can give, not how much you can get out of it," outfielder Jake Anderson said. "I'm just [glad] they're having a great time, I'm having a great time."

Thursday marked the fourth day in the team's weeklong service back to the community. Originally, only about five players were scheduled to visit the Children's Home, but a dozen ended up making the trip after the invite was extended by Cotto.

"We settle into our routines on a daily basis, but it's nice to come out here and help these kids," injured pitcher Pat Venditte said. "I don't have a lot of purpose not being able to pitch, so it's nice to be able to come here during the day and give back a little bit."

Part of the Tampa Bay community for 120 years, the Children's Home is most well known for its residential program, which helps about 120 kids ages 6-17 each year. The children are often displaced due to abuse and neglect from their parents.

While on campus, the kids are involved in programs that help build trust and social skills with adults until they are ready to leave, which is usually about nine months.

"The kids are very resilient," Merrill Stewart, who oversees fundraising for the Children's Home, said. "We couldn't do it without the help of the community and groups like the Yankees coming out to support, interact and do things with the kids that they probably missed in their childhood."

In particular, the Steinbrenners have helped the organization a great deal with some family members making trips to visit. Each year they provide a new vehicle, or if there is not a need for one, find another way to make a difference, such as renovating the pool area on campus.

Stewart added she is thrilled HOPE Week was extended to the affiliates and was grateful for the opportunity for players to stop by.

"The amount of hard work that goes into it with the players, members of the team, it's a great benefit for a number of organizations," Stewart said. "It's huge for us because these kids really thrive on interaction with other people. ... I think it's a fantastic initiative, it's a really great way for this team to really stay involved with the community they're in."

Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for

New York Yankees