DALLAS -- It's often said that the best umpiring crews are the ones that go unnoticed. That's not always the case. When Major League umpires Fieldin Culbreth, Tim Timmons, Jim Reynolds and Gary Cederstrom walked into the Child Life room on the third floor of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children on Tuesday morning, few noticed. But more than a dozen children did. Culbreth, Timmons, Reynolds and Cederstrom -- in the Dallas area to work the Rangers-Indians series in Arlington together -- took a break from calling balls, strikes and outs to hand out stuffed bears, puppies and kittens to pediatric patients as part of their efforts with BLUE for Kids.
"More than anything, it's about giving kids a memory they'll hold onto forever," said Culbreth, who's in his third year with BLUE for Kids. "We started off doing a visit in Boston and now we're doing 12 a year." Founded by umpires Marvin Hudson and Mike DiMuro in 2006, BLUE for Kids has grown from what Culbreth called a "one man pony show" to an organization with more than 25 participating Major and Minor League umpires, who will put on events such as the one in Dallas all over the country. But Tuesday's event was all about the patients at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, which has been administering pediatric orthopedic care for children free of charge since it opened in 1921. The patients, some of whom are aided by wheelchairs and gurneys, entered the Child Life room one at a time and were greeted by Reynolds, who held up Build-A-Bear Workshop stuffed animals for the patients to choose from. Next came the children's favorite part: dressing the stuffed animals. The selection ranged from cheerleader outfits to pirate attire to hula skirts to, of course, Texas Rangers uniforms. Culbreth, Timmons and Cederstrom helped in the process of dressing the stuffed animals. "At no point was this part of my job description, but it's cool," Timmons said. That much was evident, as the children did most of the dressing. Once the stuffed animals were fully dressed, the children got to name them and were given birth certificates for their new furry friends. Thirteen-year-old Amanda McAbee dressed her stuffed puppy up as a pirate and named it Will. "I really think it's cool that they came," McAbee said of the umpires. "My favorite part was getting to dress Will up and name him." Even after the children in the Child Life room had received their stuffed animals and gone back to their rooms, the umpires' work wasn't finished. Culbreth, Timmons, Reynolds and Cederstrom all stayed late to continue dressing the animals in a variety of outfits so they could be delivered door-to-door to patients who couldn't make it to the Child Life room. Even as the hospital's three Radio Flyer wagons started to overflow with surgeon bears and sailor kittens, the umpires wanted to be positive they had enough for everyone. "Let's not guess," Timmons said. Of course, the umpires took advantage of the opportunity to act like kids themselves. As they dressed the last few stuffed animals, a couple of the umpires didn't hesitate to try on some of the miniature hats. When the dressing was complete, the umpires set out and delivered 17 more stuffed animals to patients confined to their rooms. Since BLUE for Kids started putting on events like this one, the organization has handed out Build-A-Bear Workshop animals to more than 1,500 children. For Culbreth, Timmons, Reynolds and Cederstrom, who are under constant scrutiny in their day job, they feel blessed to be part of something that reminds them of what's truly important in life. "These kids in here, they don't care that we're umpires -- they don't care if we're right or wrong," Culbreth said. "This brings us back to reality in that we are just people and hopefully we're making a difference."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.