Photo: Sandy Huffaker

Rady visit reveals real heroes

Jeff Dahn

Published: Friday, August 14, 2015



SAN DIEGO – Friday is traditionally the first full day of activities for the prospects invited to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic. The visit to Rady Children’s Hospital is not only the first item on the to-do list on that first day of the whirlwind three-day weekend, it is also the most important and most impactful stop of the entire event.

That may seem like a strange assertion considering it is the Classic all-star game itself that will be televised and broadcast live from Petco Park on the MLB Network and MLB Network Radio Sunday at 5 p.m. (PDT). The game is, of course, important, but it isn’t likely to have the impact the visit to Rady has.

Through the years, players past and present have agreed that visiting the pediatric cancer patients on a sunny Friday morning in Southern California is by far the event’s most meaningful experience, especially for those that call the larger San Diego community home. And that includes San Diego-area adults that are directly involved with the 13th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic.

Outfielder Mickey Moniak, from nearby Encinitas, is one of several area prospects dotting the West Team roster this weekend, a hometown hero who is among the most highly regarded prospects in the country.

He is a poster boy for the San Diego-area players – he carries a No. 7 overall national ranking and a college commitment to UCLA – and is one of eight finalist for the Jackie Robinson Award, given annually to the Perfect Game National Player of the Year.

On Friday morning, the baseball game itself was not foremost on Moniak’s mind. He was at Rady, right here in his backyard, relishing every moment of the experience while quickly deferring any mention of “hometown hero” to those he believes deserve it more.

“It’s great, and it’s definitely humbling to see all these little kids,” Moniak said as the morning’s activities – which included a lot of inflatable balls and bats, building blocks, board games and coloring books – a got underway. “They’re the real heroes; they’re the ones going through all the stuff that you really can’t explain.

“Being a San Diego kid, I’ve known this area, I’ve been here – for different reasons, of course – but just seeing these kids and what they’re going through, it’s amazing to see how strong they are,” he continued. “I’m just happy to be here and hang out with them.”

Former San Diego Padres MLB All-Star closer and future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman has long been involved with Rady Children’s Hospital and is again this year serving as the Honorary Chairman of the PG All-American Classic. There are few things Hoffman finds any more gratifying than watching the teenage prospects interact with the even younger patients.

“They’re talking to kids that might be close to the same age as some of their siblings,” Hoffman told PG Friday morning, a couple of hours before hosting all the All-Americans and PG personnel for lunch at his oceanfront beach house. “Us adults that are here and watching the interaction, they seem a heck of a lot more comfortable with the kids then they are with some of the ambassadors and helpers of the game.”

Rady Children’s Hospital is the longtime beneficiary of the proceeds generated by the Perfect Game All-American Classic and for the second year the All-Americans were asked to raise money on their own before arriving in San Diego. This year’s group had raised $41,000 as of Friday morning.

The All-Americans spent about half the time during their visit playing with the Rady kids in an outdoor playground area that is actually on the hospital’s second floor. The other half of the visit involved a guided tour of the hospital that can be both informative and emotional.

“I love being out here. Seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces is heartwarming,” San Diego native and West Team outfielder Avery Tuck – a San Diego State recruit ranked No. 5 nationally – told PG Friday. “It inspires me a lot to see how strong they are; it makes me feel like my problems are nothing.”

When Hoffman watches the prospects and patients smile, laugh and play together, it seems like the teenagers are coming of age right in front of his eyes. He sees young, talented ballplayers who have enjoyed a tremendous amount of exposure, have already earned college scholarships and who are now just fully beginning to understand the significance of the platform they have been provided.

A seed has been planted inside the prospects, Hoffman believes, that allows them to realize they have been given the opportunity to give back something – in this case, nothing more than their time – that will have an impact on the young cancer patients, kids who have been dealt really lousy hands and ask for nothing more than someone they can look up to, someone who makes them smile.

“I think (the prospects) walk away thinking they’re pretty blessed to have the (good) health that they have and the opportunities that they have as a player,” Hoffman said. “This is going to be impactful for the rest of their lives. … To be a part of (the PG All-American Classic) and to see the impact it’s going to have on these guys long-term has been great (for me).”

Before Thursday’s PG All-American Classic Welcome Dinner, 2011 PG All-American Clate Schmidt spoke to this year’s All-Americans via Skype and recalled his visit to Rady four years ago. Schmidt, who is from Georgia and is on the Clemson University baseball team, was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma early this year, a cancer he has since beaten.

“It has been an extremely humbling experience for me,” Schmidt told the All-Americans. “When I was in your shoes, I remember going to (Rady) and walking through and just trying to introduce myself to all the little kids. … My experience of going through the whole (PG) All-American (weekend) was unreal, but the thing that had the biggest impact on me was going to the hospital and meeting with those kids.”

Before any final chapters are written, it’s certain Moniak will be included in any discussion regarding the top prospects to come out of the San Diego area in the last several years. He’s been a regular with the San Diego Show travel ball organization since 2013 and earned all-tournament recognition in the first three PG tournaments he played with the Show in late 2013 and early 2014. He added two more all-tournament citations in 2014.

Additionally, he was named to the Top Prospect List at all three of the PG showcases he’s attended: the 2013 PG Sunshine West, 2014 PG Underclass All-American Games and the 2015 Perfect Game National.

“It’s a lot of hard work going out to all the events that you can make it to, but you go out try to do your best and have a lot of fun; having fun is one of the biggest parts of it,” Moniak said of his road to the Classic. “Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s a game, so go out and have fun and hopefully stuff ends up the way you want.”

And now the Classic is just two days away; Moniak can’t wait: “Being part of this game has always been a dream of mine,” he said. “Always seeing it played at Petco and being a San Diego kid I’ve always wanted to be in it. I’ve never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be in that game,’ but that’s been my mentality. Now that it’s here, it’s a dream come true.”

That dream will be realized Sunday evening. Friday morning was for the kids who are battling more than a 96 mph fastball coming in high and tight. Moniak could be absolutely certain of at least two things while he stood on the playground at Rady Friday morning – he’s not the real hero and he is indeed truly blessed.

“This is definitely the highlight of the whole weekend,” he said. “Getting to see these kids and raising money for them, it’s awesome and this whole thing has been amazing. I’m sure this day is going to be the highlight of this whole weekend for me. I’m very grateful to be here right now and on through the weekend; it’s awesome.”

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