Whether the stage is 36,000 or 360 individuals, Chris Young can hold an audience in the palm of his hand.
The 6-foot-10 right-hander enjoyed a sensational 10-strikeout performance last Friday at Kauffman Stadium as he claimed his first win of the season in a 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
But I was more impressed with his performance the following Saturday morning, when he and backup catcher Drew Butera created a lifetime of memories for youngsters from the Miracle League, who received baseball gloves from their Kansas City Royals heroes, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Players Trust.
Hundreds of physically challenged youngsters gathered on Daniel’s Field at Ability Park in McCoy Park in Independence to participate in some special baseball games.
But this day was extra special because Young and Butera brought enough gloves for every Miracle League player, and a few extras for appreciative brothers and sisters.
“This is such a great event,” said Young, who received high-fives, hugs, a few kisses and a lot more hugs between pitching to a few of the batters and posing for enough photos to fill a stack of scrapbooks. “I wish we could take credit for it, but we just show up and have fun.”
Well, let’s clarify that statement.
They showed up, and they had fun, but it was easy to see that the Players Trust selected the right members of the Royals to take part in the special morning’s worth of activities.
“We do this in quite a few cities,” said MLBPA representative Richard White, “and you’ll never find two better guys than Drew and Chris. They wanted to come out here and be a part of this activity, and you can tell they’re having as much fun as the kids.”
Maybe even a little bit more.
I’ve been to countless “charity” events where a player shows up, spends a moment or two, and is whisked away with his entourage.
Butera pulled up to McCoy Park in his own car, while Young brought along an entourage – his three children – 9-year-old Cate, 5-year-old Scott and 3-year-old Grant.
“I really wanted my own children to be a part of this, because kids are kids, and I want them to see how all kids want to play baseball and have fun,” Young said. “The youngsters (in the Miracle League) might have limitations, but they are kids and they are a blessing to their families in the same way my children are a blessing to my family.”
Young’s children interacted with the Miracle League players, handed out gloves and seemed to enjoy the event as much as their father. They never asked to leave early or participate in the game.
As one Miracle League parent said, “We just think of him as a baseball player. Now we’ll think of him as a great dad.”
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
When you’re around Chris Young, you are in the presence of a gentleman who gets it. He is using his status as a member of the world champion Kansas City Royals to make a difference.
“It’s an honor for me to be asked to be a part of an event like this,” said Young, who took the mound and pitched to a few batters while Butera served as his catcher. “There is so much more to life than baseball. It’s great to give something back to a community that has been there to support us since I joined the team.”
Young wore a heartfelt and perpetual smile during the morning, and it was never larger than when he got to pitch to a few of the Miracle League players.
The first batter Young faced was 9-year-old Brady Langevin.
Brady couldn’t quite catch up with a Young pitch, but he crushed the ball off a tee and sprinted around the bases.
After he touched home plate, he greeted Young with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“That’s a lifetime worth of memories right there,” said Tim Langevin, Brady’s father. “Someday he’ll understand that he got to go to home plate and hit against Chris Young, a World Series pitcher for the Royals. I know I’ll never forget this day – never!”
What made this event even more memorable was the care Young and Butera showed each of the youngsters and their parents.
Each player took the time to make sure the youngster received the proper glove, asking if they were right- or left-handed.
When one young man seemed confused by the question, Young reached out to shake his hand, gave him a hug and asked him to throw a baseball.
He was a righty, and Young made sure the glove was the perfect fit.
“The kids are great and their parents and brothers and sisters all have such a good time at an event like this,” said Butera, who made it a point to greet as many parents as possible. “It’s special for me and Chris to be able to come out to an event like this and give something back to our community.”
The game was played on Daniel’s Field, which is named after 14-year-old Daniel Oakes, an Independence teenager who served as the inspiration for the field that provides a place for physically challenged youngsters to play baseball.
Daniel was in the middle of all the activity Saturday, and told Butera about a dream he hopes to one day turn into reality.
“I want to hit a home run,” said Daniel, who walks with the help of a walker because of cerebral palsy, “and have it go through the window of my mom’s car.”
Butera laughed out loud, and asked about the damage it might make to the family vehicle.
“Don’t worry,” Daniel said, “I asked my mom and she said it was insured.”
Another priceless moment from a morning drenched with memories.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC