H.O.P.E. WEEK INITIATIVE June 4-5, 2012

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June 4-5, 2012

By Raquel Julich
Foreign Radio
Special to Gulf Coast Yankees
Tampa, Florida



On March 23, 2012, during Spring Training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, the New York Yankees held the Kick-Off for their Fourth Annual H.O.P.E. Week Initiative.

Introduced in 2009, by Jason Zillo, Director, Communications and Media Relations, now in its fourth year, the Yankees H.O.P.E. Week Initiative (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient.

In the spirit of the Initiative, the New York Yankees honored 17-year old Tampa Catholic High School baseball player Owen Sarwatka, who as a sophomore, in 2010, was inspired to create “Everyone Can Play”, a nonprofit, volunteer-run, baseball skills clinic for children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities.

During May, the Yankees announced the expansion of HOPE Week. Throughout the 2012 season, five New York Yankees minor leagues affiliates will host their own community events.

Initiated on June 4 – 8, the Yankees Gulf Coast League players from the Himes Baseball Complex stepped-up-to-the-plate, as they participated in The H.O.P.E. Week Initiative.

Alex Cotto, Assistant Director of International Operations and Ron Dock, Intervention Coordinator laid the Initiative footprints for H.O.P.E., as they scheduled the players to visit and entertain youths from five different organizations.

On June 4th, the Gulf Coast League players visited “Warriors for Autism” in Oldsmar, Florida. Before the event Alex Cotto remarked “many of our players had never interacted with autistic children, so we did not know what to expect”. Afterwards, Cotto was pleased with his players’ participation “the players commented about the unbelievable experience of being able to play ball with such special youths”.

During the second day of the H.O.P.E. Initiative, on June 5th, the players drove to the Police Athletic League (PAL) of Tampa.

An overview of the PAL involvement in the community was provided by retired Tampa Police Officer Phil Ray, Executive Director, Police Athletic League of Tampa. PAL was started by Police Officer, Corporal Larry Siegel. In 1956 PAL was “just him and his van” and a few officers he could count on, working at crime prevention. Siegel was fighting juvenile crime and violence through the use of education, academically and athletically, based around “sports resources”. Larry Siegel continued in this endeavor until his death in 2010.

Today, the Tampa PAL children’s services include; van pickup from several Hillsborough County Elementary Schools for daily after school care, healthy snacks, assistance with school study and a variety of sporting programs. PAL also operates a supervised summer care program targeting “at risk” inner city children.

At the Police Athletic League, Alex Cotto and Ron Dock took turns speaking to the youths about the message in H.O.P.E. The subject of drugs and bullying was discussed with questions and answers. There was a message for the girls that “baseball is not just for boys but that there are plenty of job opportunities for girls within Major League Baseball”.

Yankees prospects from the Dominican Republic; Leonel Vinas, Daniel Lopez, and Jose Rosario, Adam Silva (Australia) and Jake Anderson took turns fielding questions from the approximately sixty-five boys and girls, ages 5-12, in attendance.
The questions ranged from baseball related, to the player’s personal lives. “Did they have children?” “Do you have a brother?” “Did you ever see a Kangaroo?” It was a question for Adam Silva who hails from Victoria, Australia. The children were obviously intrigued by meeting someone from Australia.

During snack time the young Yankees players each sat at a picnic table filled with kids. Childish conversation and laughter was the baseball order of the day. The children took turns trying on the baseball players’ gloves.
The children were curious about the age of the players and asked how long it would take them to reach the Major Leagues. They asked about their sports shoes, running speed, and hitting home runs. They talked about championships. They wanted to hear about the World Series Trophy and asked if every player received one.

After the questions and answers sessions the Yankees players and children teamed at the PAL field to “play a little catch”. After all the children took their swings, the players and children took a group photo, followed by many friendly good-by. A tender moment was observed on departure, as one child returned running to a Yankees player for a final hug.

At its core, HOPE Week is about people helping people. The one thing everybody has – no matter their background or financial situation – is time. By involving every player, manager and coach, along with front office staff, during the celebration of HOPE Week, the Yankees organization is sending the message that everyone can give of themselves to make their community a better place.

H.O.P.E. Week – The Yankees Gulf Coast League management and players initiated the footprints.

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