Braves visit children at local hospitals
Players, personalities part of Christmas in July with kids
ATLANTA -- The Braves had little trouble getting into the holiday spirit on Wednesday despite insufferable humidity and burnt grass outside the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
But inside Egleston Hospital, it was "Christmas in July," and Braves players came with gifts stockpiled in red, rolling wagons.
"Everybody loves Christmas," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "And when you can give it twice a year, it's the best."
The Braves' wives collected hundreds of toys earlier this year, and on Wednesday, both they and their famous husbands walked the halls of Egleston, Scottish Rite and Hughes Spalding hospitals and delivered gifts.
And these weren't cheap, promotional gifts either -- there were NERF basketball hoops, board games, electronic video games and Hot Wheels sets.
"Man, this is awesome," 12-year-old Jarvis Salter said after perusing his collection of gifts, which included a five-piece glass board-game set and autographed hat.
Salter was standing in the lobby of the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service alongside McCann and Jeff Francoeur. After scribbling their signatures on a few more shirts and caps, McCann and Francoeur walked down the hallway, popping in and out of exam rooms and surprising patients.
They came into Procedure Room 3 to see Landon, who wasn't feeling well on Wednesday. Her spirits lifted when McCann and Francoeur came in and delivered a triple-shot Batman action figure, prompting high-fives.
Meanwhile, in the pediatric intensive care unit, Mike Gonzalez, Kelly Johnson and broadcaster Joe Simpson were busy spreading holiday cheer. Three patients into their cycle they met Judith, who is 16. When the two Braves players walked into her room, it was hard to tell who was more excited: Judith, or her mom, Brenda, a big Braves fan.
"This is just too cool," Brenda said, literally bouncing around the room and snapping photographs with her daughter. Afterward, as Gonzalez and Johnson were leaving, Brenda shook their hands and said, "It's very nice what the Braves are doing and have done. It really means a lot to the patients."
After making his rounds, Gonzalez jumped ahead a group and met Gregor Blanco and broadcaster Fernando Palacios in general pediatric care. There they met perhaps the most excitable patient, 5-year-old Waylon Woodall.
Waylon had already wandered out of his room early, fascinated by the Braves' mascot, Homer, and in hot pursuit of the players. Five minutes later, he didn't have to hide his excitement.
Presented with a plastic tee ball set, Waylon hopped onto the hospital bed to give the appearance that he was the same height as Gonzalez and Blanco. His family took pictures as he shrieked and grinned.
"This was an unbelievable experience, man," Gonzalez said after the two-hour visit. "It's pretty much why we do this, why we're proud to be big leaguers and see the smile on these kids' faces."
Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.