ATLANTA -- On Tuesday night, Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar acted as the primary supplier of highlight-reel plays for numerous national sports shows. Escobar dazzled fans with an acrobatic double-play turn and a barehanded grab and throw on a chopper to short, in addition to getting two hits in the Braves' 8-1 win over the Giants. As awe-inspiring as those plays were, they were nothing compared to the joy he inspired Wednesday morning, when he joined teammates Brian McCann and Brooks Conrad and broadcasters Chip Caray, Don Sutton and Fernando Palacios at the Braves' annual "Christmas in July" event at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. The famous players and announcers joined Braves mascot Homer on a tour through the children's hospital, where they visited patients, signed autographs, posed for photos and handed out plenty of toys. The toys were collected during a toy drive that was organized by numerous wives of Braves players.
For McCann and his wife, Ashley, the experience of reaching out to the Atlanta community is nothing new. The Cuban-born Escobar had never participated in an event like this, but the impact it had on him was immediate and overwhelming. "I had heard from other players about the experience to come to the hospital," Escobar said, with Palacios serving as his translator. "I never expected what I was going to encounter when I stepped into the building." What he and the rest of the Braves' contingent experienced was nothing short of a hero's welcome. Not only did numerous patients' faces light up at the sight of Braves players and announcers walking down the hall, but hospital staff and doctors were also thrilled to see Atlanta celebrities. One patient who had the special opportunity to be visited by the group was Sam Hudson of Cumming, Ga., a 7-year-old boy born with a disorder that affects the way bones fuse together on his skull. He was at Scottish Rite for his ninth surgery to correct the problem. Sam attended a Braves game vs. the Phillies with his family on June 30 and had a ball thrown to him in the stands by pitcher Tommy Hanson during batting practice. In addition to receiving a Braves tee-ball bat and hat, Sam was able to get the ball he got from Hanson signed by Escobar, McCann, Caray and Palacios when they dropped in on his room. "I think it's absolutely wonderful that they take the time to do this," said Sam's mother, Janice Hudson. "[Sam] is nobody to them, but they are his heroes. It really meant a lot." But the patients weren't the only ones moved by the visit. Escobar walked through the halls while towing a plastic wagon filled with toys, while McCann would stop to chat with kids and their families. Occasionally, Escobar would stop and take photos with his cell phone and greet hospital staff and patients. As someone who had to overcome his share of adversity to get to where he is, Escobar understood the impact the visit had on the youngsters he met. "It was an awakening for me," Escobar said. "From this moment on, I will be more appreciative of the blessings God has given me. My girlfriend has a little boy. From now on, I'm going to look on him even better. From this moment on, I'm open to do whatever needs to be done to shine in other people's lives and make this a better world for them." Already known throughout the Braves clubhouse as one of the most intense and fiery competitors on the team, Escobar said the chance to meet such inspiring children will provide additional fuel to his competitive drive. "From this day on, I'll play even harder," Escobar said. "I met kids that watch the Braves play all the time. From this moment on, they know that they met Yunel Escobar. And I'll do whatever it takes to not let those kids down so they feel proud of having a friend like me."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.