NEW YORK -- Autumn Blinn's journey from Rome, N.Y., to the Ronald McDonald House in New York for HOPE Week began with one pillow.
Last year Blinn's, grandmother, Shari Santiago, taught her how to sew. Their first item was a pillow. Her grandfather, John Santiago, undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week at Faxton St. Luke's Hospital in Utica, N.Y., and saw the pillow. He wanted one of his own to rest his arm on during dialysis.
Blinn has made more than 300 pillows since.
"I think the person that receives this, they're not going to feel as much pain," said the 10-year-old Blinn.
The pillows caught on at Faxton St. Luke's. Blinn made pillows for the residents there and the residents at Rome Memorial Hospital in her hometown. She's donated pillows to the Ronald McDonald house in Syracuse, N.Y., and to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. And on Tuesday, she came to New York to donate pillows to the Ronald McDonald House and be surprised by the Yankees.
When Blinn arrived at the Ronald McDonald House, her favorite player Alex Rodriguez wasn't there, but Joe Girardi, Robinson Cano, Eduardo Nunez, David Robertson, Vernon Wells and Jayson Nix greeted her.
"We think it's amazing what you do," Girardi told Blinn. "And we want to be part of what you do."
"It was very exciting, because I'm a huge Yankees fan," Blinn said.
Players signed pillows and T-shirts and mingled with the children. Nunez even took the opportunity to showcase his dancing ability, playing the video game "Just Dance" with two of the children.
"Nunie, in a lot of ways, is a little kid himself," Girardi said. "Nunie's the perfect guy to have here today."
But Blinn was a star, too. On Memorial Day weekend alone, she produced 62 pillows. She signed some of the pillows and T-shirts and the children followed suit. By the end of the day, Nunez's shirt was plastered with the names of children at the House.
For some Yankees, it was another opportunity to give back to the community for HOPE Week. Last year, Cano took part in a similar event, albeit with a much older child. For newcomers like Wells, though, it was a chance to make a mark in the New York community after being involved with the Ronald McDonald House for much of his career.
"We have a bad day and it's going 0-for-4 at the plate," he said. "What they're going through impacts their lives."
Each pillow takes just a minute or two to sew, and they added up to an unforgettable experience on Tuesday. The basement at the Ronald McDonald House was crowded all afternoon with smiling faces and smiling children. The Yankees may have been in the building, but with each pillow she signed, Blinn proved that she was the star.
"It was really exciting," Blinn said, "because everyone was smiling."
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.