Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yanks' stars show up for community service week

Yanks' stars show up for community service week

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Alex Rodriguez threw the ball high into the air and 10-year-old Jack Zittel came barreling toward the three-time AL MVP. He hauled in the popup with a nice running catch, earning some praise from the smiling New York Yankees slugger.

Zittel grinned wildly as he hustled to get back in line.

"I was thinking 'Oh my God, A-Rod just said atta boy. Oh my God,'" Zittel said.

The streaking Yankees are earning praise on and off the field this week, with all of their biggest stars participating in an ambitious community service project titled HOPE Week, for Helping Others Persevere & Excel.

Rodriguez, pitchers Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain and hitting coach Kevin Long were in Greenwich Village on Tuesday to honor Tom Ellenson, a sixth-grader with Cerebral Palsy who uses a motorized wheelchair to move around but was voted most valuable person by his champion Little League team. They had lunch with Ellenson before conducting a clinic for him and his teammates on their home field.

Ellenson's father, Richard, who invented a device that helps Tom communicate, was taken back by the Yankees' generosity.

"It means the world has magic," he said. "It means that people understand other people. It means that my son and I are living the American dream."

Manager Joe Girardi, closer Mariano Rivera, second baseman Robinson Cano and outfielder Melky Cabrera crammed into a small Washington Heights apartment Monday to pay tribute to a couple who have opened their home to neighborhood children for lessons in leadership and community.

Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are scheduled to participate in Wednesday's event for an Army veteran with Lou Gehrig's Disease and his wife, with two more projects scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

"We want to go to them and be a part of something without taking them out of their element," said Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo, who came up with the idea for a week's worth of community service activities in the offseason.

"We've really stepped outside the box, I think, and to do it five straight days - it's not like 'Well, pick one a week.'"

Most of the Yankees' organization is involved in some way with the project, which also includes efforts to raise money for some worthwhile groups.

HOPE Week has generated some positive publicity for a franchise in need of goodwill after facing criticism for the high ticket prices at its new stadium and Rodriguez's admission in spring training that he used steroids when he played for the Texas Rangers.

"I think we'll get more out of this because we didn't think about it that way," said Zillo, pointing out the project was being planned long before the franchise's PR problems this year.

Rodriguez, Pettitte, Chamberlain and Long all seemed to enjoy themselves Tuesday. While A-Rod ran the Little Leaguers through fielding drills, Pettitte and Chamberlain gave the players pointers on pitching at another station and Long worked on their swings at the other end of the field.

"I think the lesson for us is not just about giving money and just putting your name to something, but it's actually about coming out and giving up your time and opening up your heart," said Rodriguez, whose two-run single helped the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight win. "We also hope that other people in the community get involved because one thing we can all give is time."

Updated July 22, 2009

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