Baseball and softball combined to rank as the team sport with the most participation in 2016, according to the annual report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
The popularity is clear from the looks of the recent Homers for Health 2017 Home Run Derby Championships presented by Heartland Coca-Cola. Forty-two schools participated in the fundraising efforts to benefit SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Thirty-eight of those schools — 32 of them Catholic schools — held a home run derby at their school and sent approximately eight winning students each to the Home Run Derby Championships in Forest Park.
Combining sport and fundraising for the Catholic hospital was the reason for the participation, but the grand slam was an appearance by four St. Louis Cardinals players — Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Jedd Gyorko and Adam Wainwright — at the championships. The players didn't hit the field and run either; they took their time with the kids and had fun with them.
Meeting the players was on the mind of Jacob George of Queen of All Saints Parish, a fifth-grader at Point Elementary School in Oakville. "It's neat to see them out here," he said, admitting however that his favorite player still is Yadier Molina. Jacob added that he appreciated the cause — raising funds for children who are patients.
Braden Coleman, a seventh-grader at Valle Catholic School in Ste. Genevieve, agreed that the cause is worthy. He was even more excited to meet the players. "It's life-changing," he said.
Gyorko is a newcomer to the Homers for Health/Ks for Kids program, which has raised $3.7 million since Matt and Leslee Holliday began the program in 2012. Off the field, Gyorko is a soft-spoken family man and a fan of the hospital. He realizes the players are a big deal to the community and it's important to put smiles on children's faces. "Any chance we can help sick kids ... it's dear to our hearts," he said. "To be able to give to this charity and this organization (the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Foundation) is pretty cool."
Gyorko is a member of a Christian church in his hometown of Morgantown, W. Va. "There's a lot of things that can happen through prayer," he said. "You want to have that rock that's always there no matter what happens. In life, and especially in baseball, there's a lot of ups and downs and to have that faith, know that He's always there, is important."
When things go wrong, Gyorko hangs in there, works hard and trusts in his abilities. His advice to young athletes is to have fun, be passionate, work hard and be persistent.
Wainwright said that it's an easy decision to take the time to meet the children at the hospital because of the caring staff and the courage of the children and their families. Seeing the money that is raised makes it "very, very worthwhile for us," he said.
The fact that it's a faith-based hospital is important, the Cardinals pitcher said. Speaking for his teammates at the event, he said: "We're believers in Jesus, and we think that His role is the maybe the biggest role that can play in anyone's life. That faith gives a lot of people hope. That hospital does such a great job of already bringing hope to kids and families. ... It's tough in trying times, and we as humans can't do it on our own and need a little extra help."
Carpenter, chairman of the program, said it's fun to be with the children who support the hospital and with the patients. "I've seen the impact this has on so many people," he said. "To see a child go through something tough touches you in a different way. To be a part of this and hopefully change some lives along the way, that's why we come."
Let's applaud the four players for fighting hard on the field this season, but more importantly, let's enthusiastically applaud them for also fighting hard for children.
Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. RELATED ARTICLE(S):FAITHFUL FAN | Alan Benes: Take reasonable approach to youth sports