Futures players visit Boys & Girls Club
Gonzalez, Walker take part in All-Star Week renovation project
PITTSBURGH -- Kids at the Shadyside Boys & Girls Club couldn't believe their eyes on Saturday afternoon -- but suddenly, standing right there in their own club, wearing All-Star Futures jerseys, were two professional baseball players.Neil Walker, a catcher for Pittsburgh's Class A-Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats, and Gio Gonzalez, a pitcher for the Double-A Reading Phillies, stopped by the club to help out with an All-Star Week renovation project, organized by Major League Baseball and The Frank Foundation's Magical Builders initiative. The kids thought it was all just too good to be true. But once it sunk in, they were clamoring for autographs and a chance to talk with the players. Christian Lowe, 14, said he was excited to meet the players because "they might be big one day." "I didn't think they were [really] coming," said Lowe. "I was suprised when they came here -- I liked it when they came out for autographs." As Walker was touring the club he stopped and said hello to a group of beaming young girls. After he chatted with them, and as he was walking away, one of the girls reached out and lightly grabbed his jersey. She then turned and whispered to her friends, "I touched him!" Gonzalez, 20, and Walker, 20, gave hugs and high-fives all around as they talked with the boys and girls, posed for photos and signed autographs for every child that wanted one -- and in some cases, two, or three or more autographs each. They signed everything from T-shirts, to baseballs, softballs, bats, gloves, and even socks and shoes. Trevon Page, 8, said when players arrived he thought, "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm seeing real Pirates." Page got the most autographs of all the kids, as he went back several times to each player. As he held his prized T-shirt, he said he wanted to get the signatures "because they're somebody special to me." The players also picked up some paintbrushes and rollers and pitched in on some of the wall painting projects around the club. They were excited to work with the kids and get involved in the renovation. As part of the MLB and Magical Builders' project, the club will receive a complete interior painting, renovated bathrooms, windows, lighting, baseboards, ceiling tiles, upgraded heating and air conditioning, an improved arts and crafts room and many other interior touch-up projects. "I'm excited about this, this has always been like a dream for me -- helping out in the community, helping out other communities, keeping it going and building from scratch," said Gonzalez. "[Walker and I] are just glad to join in and lend a helping hand." Gonzalez enjoyed playing with the kids while they were painting. He took turns lifting the kids up so they could paint the higher spots on the walls, which made them burst into fits of laughter.
At one point, Gonzalez lifted a young boy up to paint and when he set him down, the boy's sneakers accidentally landed right into a container of bright yellow paint. Gonzalez helped the boy wipe the paint off his shoes, and later discreetly handed Magical Builders' Christy Frank a handful of money so he could buy new sneakers.The kids were excited to have the players there and followed them all around the club and then even outside to their cars as they were leaving, for just one more autograph, one more photo or to tell them one last story. The players seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and their time with the kids at the club. "To come here and see the smiles on the kids' faces and see how much fun they're having, you kind of take it for granted, you don't realize how much they look up to professional athletes," said Walker. "It's something you cherish -- you hope you made a kid's day, and you hope you made a difference."
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.