With sunglasses atop their heads and bubble gum popping in their mouths, the boys of the Florida Little League baseball team took to signing autographs and posing for cameramen Thursday on the eve of their big regional championship in Warner Robins.
But these ESPN darlings from Viera/Suntree, Fla., weren’t just appeasing fans and humoring paparazzi in their afternoon visit to Macon on their day off.
Instead, they were giving back.
The 12 boys of the Florida team spent the afternoon handing out autographed baseballs and playing board games with patients at The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.
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Though they’ll be going to bat Friday against the Georgia Little League champs from Columbus for the title of Southeastern Region Little League Champions, Florida team members said they hold no ill feelings toward their Georgia competitors.
They said they viewed the hospital visit as an opportunity to say thank you while doing something good for the community.
“This is our way of showing we appreciate Georgia for hosting us and playing against us,” said team member Anthony Castagnaro, 13.
Christine Prater, whose son Jackson wears the No. 24 jersey on the team, said she thought visiting the Children’s Hospital was a good way to teach the team humility.
“It’s really easy for them to get caught up in the fame they’ve gotten recently, but this will hopefully remind them that life isn’t a baseball game.
There are more important things than winning or losing, and in the long run it won’t matter that much what happens (Friday),” Prater said.
One of the patients the team visited was 4-year-old Grayson Anderson, of Cochran, who has been having trouble maintaining a strong white blood cell count.
When teammate Jimmy Cowley handed Anderson a baseball signed by the team, Anderson curled up into the neck of his mom, marveling at the ball like a new toy.
Lindsay Wagner, who works at the hospital, said the children at the hospital all seemed excited about the team’s visit.
“Their eyes lit up when they heard. We’re going to have to turn ESPN on (Friday) night so they can watch the game,” Wagner said.
The winning team in Friday’s championship in Warner Robins will advance to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., on Aug. 20.